At a dinner convened jointly between France and the UK in London last week, a group of representatives from such small island states described the severity of the threat they face. They are understandably pushing hard for all nations to do more to cut emissions and help prevent the worst impacts of climate change.
The threats facing the rest of the world are no less grave. To preserve a climate that can support a healthy, prosperous population, we must limit global warming to no more than 1.5°C or 2°C.
The shape of the international climate deal set for agreement in Paris is becoming clearer. More than 150 countries have announced their commitments to reduce emissions. Many have also pledged increased finance to help the poorest and most vulnerable countries adapt to the effects of climate change.
The UK and France are leading by example. By 2030, the UK will have halved its emissions compared to 1990 and is on track to meet the target, set out in law, of an 80% reduction by 2050. France will cut its emissions by 40% by 2030, compared to 1990, and the new Energy Transition Act provides mechanisms to finance renewable energies.
We are also committed to supporting developing countries to strengthen their resilience and manage the risks of a changing climate. The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, recently announced that the UK will provide £5.8 billion between April 2016 and March 2021. At the same time, President Francois Hollande announced that France will increase its annual funding to fight climate change from a current €3 billion commitment to €5 billion by 2020.
Nevertheless, as the representatives from small island states made clear, the sum of all commitments to reduce emissions is not yet enough to ensure their sustainable future.
We should see these commitments as a baseline. We can do at least this much. These commitments take us 15 years into the future, and so reflect a huge range of economic, social, and technological uncertainty. The future can be promising. And the Paris COP21 needs to build even greater ambition.
A change in direction is already visible. Evidence released by PWC shows that the global economy grew by 3.3% in 2014, while emissions only grew by 0.5%. This suggests that economic growth is increasingly decoupled from greenhouse gas emissions.
And the pace of change is increasing. 37 countries have now put a price on carbon. China will join them in another two years’ time. The world is now adding more renewable energy capacity than coal, natural gas and oil combined. The cost of solar cells has fallen by around 80% since 2008 and more investment is being ploughed into clean energy technologies all the time.
China added 9.9GW of new solar electricity capacity in the first 3 quarters of 2015 alone – equivalent to more than a tenth of the UK’s entire domestic power generation. Many small island states have also adopted ambitious renewable energy targets in the past year.
This transition has economic benefits beyond reducing climate risks. For example, the low carbon economy and its supply chain now employ around half a million people in both the UK and France. In the case of the UK, this sector contributes more to GDP than the automotive industry. These opportunities will only become clearer over time, and the incentives to take advantage of them will be greater.
The threat facing us all is very real, even if it is not as apparent to all of us as it is to the inhabitants of the small islands states. There is a role for everyone in confronting it.
The Paris conference must be a watershed moment, leading us into an era of green economic development and opportunity. We are confident we will find an effective response – through human ingenuity, innovation and determination – to the greatest challenge our civilisation has ever faced.