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William Hague: The Challenge of Climate Change

I am pleased to be here with you today and would like to thank Green Alliance for their invitation to deliver a speech on future Conservative foreign policy and the challenge of climate change.

I particularly wish to express my gratitude to its Director Stephen Hale and to all those that have been involved in the organisation of this event, and I look forward to hearing the subsequent responses from Bernice Lee of Chatham House and Mark Kenber from The Climate Group.

The Conservative Party has long understood the importance of environmental stewardship and conservation. From Stanley Baldwin to Winston Churchill to Margaret Thatcher: successive Conservative leaders have held real concern for the future of the natural world often driven by their personal appreciation of nature. Indeed, it was a Conservative government in the 1950s that first tackled air pollution with the Clean Air Act. Significantly, this month marks the twentieth anniversary of Margaret Thatcher's landmark address to the United Nations General Assembly where she became one of the first leaders to alert the international community to the imminent and common threat that was posed by continued and unrestrained environmental damage.  Given her training as a scientist, she was perhaps able to comprehend more readily than her political contemporaries, the complex interrelationships between the activities of man and the natural world.  She, of course, was a firm believer in progress and technological advancement but firmly recognised that such change must be sought only with responsibility and care.  "Of all the challenges faced by the world community", she said, "one has grown clearer than any other in both urgency and importance...the global threat to our environment...We are...trustees of this planet, charged today with preserving life itself - preserving life with all its mystery and all its wonder. May we be equal to that task."  

That task has undoubtedly emerged over the last twenty years with even more urgency than was apparent before. The carbon-intensive economies of rich countries, combined with population growth, and strong - and very welcome - economic growth in many developing countries are placing increasing demands on the environment. And the countries who have contributed least to climate change are the first to suffer from its effects.

Since the election of David Cameron as its leader the Conservative Party has provided the vision and ideas to be at the forefront of the environmental debate and remains so today. David Cameron's personal commitment to the issue has invigorated discussion  and attracted the attention of many young people in this country who feel as passionately as he does. I am delighted that he has been able to achieve this for it is an area where others, including me, have failed. Eleven years ago, in 1998, when I was Conservative Party leader, I delivered a speech setting out our "Blue-Green" approach to the environment which was in tune with the instincts of Conservatism and with conservation in this country. It was widely unreported at the time, but the times are now certainly different.

We seek to present a world to future generations in which environmental sustainability is achievable.  A greener society, where the indicators of quality of life are not just represented by those which are economic and sometimes distorting, is our progressive aim. Although not exclusive to any political party or viewpoint, it is one we believe is only achieveable through Conservative means and principles: by reducing bureaucracy, harnessing the power of markets, giving control to local councils and by recognising that individuals themselves will make the biggest difference. During the recent election campaigns the environment has featured prominently and we have urged people to "Vote Blue, Go Green". We campaigned energetically for the Climate Change Act which received Royal Assent in  November 2008 and published our Low Carbon Economy Green Paper earlier this year. We all have a shared responsibility to act and under a Conservative government care for the environment will be one of our highest priorities.

This week as the countdown in days to the Copenhagen Conference enters single figures, my Conservative colleagues in the Shadow Cabinet are delivering a range of speeches on climate change, reaffiming our commitment to the issue. Although each will have their own perspective, together we will state our approach towards climate change and put forward our proposals. Andrew Mitchell, the Shadow International Development Secretary, has already argued why a fair deal for developing countries at Copenhagen is imperative and explained how future Conservative international development policy will help poor people around the world grapple with the impacts of climate change. George Osborne, the Shadow Chancellor, has spoken of the overwhelming economic arguments for domestic and global action on climate change and announced a new pledge to reduce government emissions and energy bills. Tomorrow Grant Shapps, Shadow Housing Minister, will present our recommendations for green housing and on Friday, Greg Clark, the Shadow Secretary for Energy and Climate Change will summarise our co-ordinated approach if we are elected as the next British government in less than 6 months' time.   
As Shadow Foreign Secretary, I will be speaking tonight on the international implications of climate change and the challenge it presents to our individual and collective security. I will argue that climate change is not simply an environmental and development concern but an urgent foreign and national security concern. I will outline how we will shape Conservative foreign policy to meet this challenge and re-emphasise that it will be one of the top priorities of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and new National Security Council we plan to establish. I will describe how we will approach the issue through the international organisations to which we belong and in our bilateral relationships with key countries and propose specific EU action on financing and saving the rainforest. Under a Conservative government climate change will be one of the major guiding influences on our foreign policy in a similar manner to our domestic policy.

In my IISS speech earlier this year on the future of British Foreign Policy under a Conservative government, I argued that above all the challenges which the international community must overcome, there are two central challenges which are immense in their scope.  I argued that, "the alarming features of these two threats are not only that they are new, and not only that their consequences are unknowable, but also that they are almost certainly not reversible once they have happened". I am of course talking about nuclear proliferation and climate change and strongly believe that they are the two biggest threats to humanity. This is a shared concern across the Shadow Cabinet: for us climate change is not just our focus in the run up to the Copenhagen conference this week. It will remain one of our dominant themes after the Copenhagen conference and for the years to come.

When I visited Darfur three years ago I saw at first hand how climate change can contribute to conflict. At the Abu Shouk refugee camp I met people who had been driven from their land, along with men, women and children who were forced to flee from their villages when the militia arrived, and had trekked across the scorched earth before reaching the relative safety of the camp. The main blame for the crisis lies squarely with the actions of the government in Khartoum, and of rogue rebel groups.  According to a report by the United Nations Environmental Programme in 2007, the conflict has been fuelled by environmental degradation - a disruption in monsoon patterns caused by a man-made rise in temperatures of the Indian Ocean resulted in drought and creeping desertification. The struggle over scarce resources contributed to conflict throughout the entire region. The innocent people I met in Abu Shouk  had been caught up in a wretched situation, where their traditional existence had changed forever.

The devastation brought to the lives of thousands of Darfuri civilians and Sudan itself, in defiance of the international community, highlights the destructive economic, political and social consequences of environmental decay, and poses the question "where next?".  In 2007 a report by the independent organisation International Alert identified 46 countries at risk of violent conflict and an additional 56 facing a high risk of instability as a result of climate change. Next week it will publish an updated report which examines the growing risk of armed conflict now being experienced by some of the most fragile regions of the world due to climate change.

Climate change also has the potential to bring the developing world into conflict with the developed.  Internal problems caused by poverty and deprivation will be exacerbated in many poor countries.  The problem will fall on nations experiencing the toughest environmental conditions; those that have difficulty accessing basic commodities such as food and water; those frequently struck by natural disaster; and those existing in the harshest natural environments.  The political fallout from acute economic hardship can be disastrous.  Last year food riots in Haiti triggered the collapse of the government and countries teetering on the brink of failure have the potential to descend into further chaos like Somalia.  This growing global insecurity will place additional demands on British and international contributions to peacekeeping operations and aid programmes.

Diplomacy and negotiation will have to overcome complex and incendiary disputes and in areas dogged by conflict, instability, terrorism, poverty and scarcity, global warming has the ability to act as a "threat multiplier". Disagreements between countries could increase as tensions rise and existing problems are exposed.  Taking South Asia as an example, a fifth of the country of Bangladesh could disappear if sea levels rise by just one metre, endangering the lives of some 30 million people.  India has already constructed a 2,500 mile "security barrier" along its border with Bangladesh to reduce high levels of existing migration; the potential increase caused by widespread permanent flooding in Bangladesh would put an enormous strain on that border and the region as a whole.  Across one of India's other boundaries, with Pakistan, the Kolahoi glacier exists as the only source of water in the Kashmir valley.  It is melting fast and it is currently predicted that its complete disappearance will come in only 10 years time.  That could heighten the historical dispute between the countries, two nuclear powers.  Up to 1 billion people in South Asia, including Afghanistan and China obtain their water from the Himalayan glaciers, which are expected to disappear by 2035.

Environmental change also has implications for the balance of global and regional power, and we may witness charged competition between countries over resources.  Israel and her Arab neighbours have been disputing limited water supplies over decades.  In this region 5% of the world's population share 1% of the water supply and countries such as Iraq, Syria and Jordan and parts of Turkey and Lebanon are already suffering from acute drought. 

But the impact will not only be felt in developing countries, or in areas blighted by historic and deep-seated hostilities.  Britain will have to compete for dwindling energy supplies, along with other nations, as long as fossil fuels remain essential to economic activity.  This will strengthen the hand of energy-producing governments in international affairs, while weakening our own position - to the detriment of foreign policy in instances where these nations do not share our values.  Further, climate change could become the single most important issue in bilateral relations, for instance between the economic powerhouses of our time such as the United States and China.  Rivalry could also increase between the economies of developed nations.  Scientists predict that the Arctic will be completely ice-free by 2030 which will reduce the journey of shipping between Europe and Asia by up to 4,000 nautical miles.  Shipping rights through the North West passage are still the subject of much dispute, and will intensify as traffic increases. There will be more opportunities for commercial ventures such as fishing and resource extraction which will bringing new logistical, legal and security challenges.  The US Navy has already formed a Climate Taskforce which will develop a long-term strategy for defence and security in the Arctic. 
So far I have sketched how the global effects of climate change in the form of water shortages, famine, health impacts, migration, and competition will pose serious challenges to international efforts to promote greater peace and stability in the world.  However the speed of underlying environmental change and our collective mitigation of it may provide the sternest test of the effectiveness of the international community. The last climate deal took over eight years to finish and we no longer have time to waste. We must reach an inclusive deal that leaves no country or group behind.  Copenhagen represents yet another milestone in search of such an agreement, but progress must now be made towards resolution and the fulfilment of certain criteria.  First, there must be a binding common commitment to keep the rise in global temperatures to below 2 degrees and the balance of commitments entered into by the developing and developed world must be a fair reflection of each country's capacity to contribute to emissions reductions, and of their historical contribution to the problem. Second, no deal at Copenhagen should be regarded as serious unless it finds an international mechanism to help people in the world's poorest countries protect themselves against future floods, famine and drought in addition to what is needed to help relieve their current poverty.   Third, it must contain an agreement on protecting the world's rainforests. In addition, global fossil subsidy reform should be a priority in the implementation of a deal given international action has lacked a sense of urgency despite a provision in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. China and India are of fundamental importance to a strong and effective deal. They should be pushed hard to commit themselves to major efforts to achieve emissions reductions but we should be open to them presenting a robust set of unilateral mitigation measures before eventually committing to binding reductions. Let me make clear that if a political agreement is reached at Copenhagen and there are further negotiations in order to achieve a legally binding treaty next year, they will be an absolute priority for an incoming Conservative government.

In my speech eleven years ago I argued that this country must maintain a "confident internationalism" to address the world's global environmental challenges and I will devote the rest of my speech to how a future Conservative government would put this into action. We will ensure that we work through all the international organisations to which we belong and use all the foreign policy tools we have at our disposal to ensure that climate change is at the top of the international agenda. 

First and foremost we will use Britain's position as a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council to ensure that the perils of climate change are high on the Council's agenda, and to foster the recognition that irreversible climate change is a threat to the collective security of all nations

In conjunction with this important effort will be our contribution through the EU which has a crucial role, notably in moving negotiations towards an achievable international settlement.  For the past four years David Cameron has argued that the EU should concentrate on global areas where it can really deliver for its people, such as fighting global poverty, boosting economic growth and combating climate change and as a member, our voice on the international environmental stage can be given far greater weight.

The EU has shown effective leadership in tackling climate change - without its efforts, we would not have had a Kyoto Protocol - and we look forward to working with our European partners to make further progress on this issue.  I will return, later on, to specific areas of European policy that I think can play a decisive and important part.

We will also strive to make climate change a priority in the organisations which we are members, beginning with NATO.  Last month the NATO Secretary General said the alliance must start taking action now on the security implications of climate change. We are fully supportive of this change in approach and believe that climate security should be as much of a focus for NATO as energy security, given that they are inter-linked. In addition, we will continue to encourage international organisations such as the World Bank and the IMF as positive drivers of environmental reform in developing countries.

Added to this will be the collective response of that much neglected organisation under the present government - the Commonwealth.  Amongst its fifty-three members are many small and vulnerable states, such as the Maldives. Sitting at only 1.5 metres above the sea-level, any rise in global temperatures above two degrees would totally destroy the habitation in which people have lived for the past 2,000 years. It is, as the President strikingly described, a "frontline state in the battle against climate change" and at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester last month, he reiterated his pledge to make the Maldives the first carbon-neutral country within the next decade by switching from oil to renewable energy production. The Commonwealth Secretariat is assisting the Maldives in its submission to secure access to an additional seabed and has a wealth of experience in helping small states in negotiations. At the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting later this week climate change is high on the agenda given that the very existence of some of its members is under threat and it is important that a meaningful communique is produced.

We will also make climate change a priority in our bilateral dealings; particularly with the world's largest carbon emitters. I very much welcome President Obama's personal engagement on climate change and the fact that the United States has taken more steps to combat its effects in the past 10 months than at any other time in its history. Last month Secretary Clinton and I discussed the global challenges climate change brings and the leading role that the US can assume, particularly in reaching an agreement at Copenhagen. I am greatly encouraged by the bipartisan efforts of Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic Senator John Kerry, whom I have also spoken to. They describe their ambitious legislation as a blueprint for a clean-energy future, one which will revitalise the American economy, create new jobs and safeguard national security. I believe it exemplifies the progressive international leadership that is required and we will do all we can to solidify Congressional support. Over the past few years we have consistently argued that political Conservatism and concern for the environment are complementary. We will continue to encourage Republicans to think in this way and it is my hope that momentum on the Bill will gather soon.

Beyond Europe and North America we will advance constructive engagement with countries such as China, India, Brazil and Indonesia. I am heartened by China's recognition of the scale and urgency of the problem, exemplified by the low carbon roadmap proposal in its five year plan for 2011-2015, and its recent agreement with the US to work together in the field of low-carbon technology and the proposal of a joint research centre. In a few days I will be heading to Beijing where I will discuss Chinese co-operation in meeting this global challenge, and urge the government to strengthen its commitment to make "substantial" cuts to its emissions following President Hu's announcement in September.

David Cameron has spoken of our wish to further promote the special relationship between the UK and India, focusing on common challenges such as terrorism, globalisation and the environment. The Indian government has recently made great strides towards combating climate change - last year it published the country's first National Action Plan with solar energy for power generation and energy efficiency at the forefront of its policies. It also hosted a high level 'Technology Development and Transfer conference' last month and proposed the establishment of an international network of Climate Innovation Centres. India could be a real leader in developing technologies for low carbon economic growth, as it has demonstrated in other technological fields, and there are huge opportunities for close collaboration with the UK.

We are looking into holding a high-level conference early next year to explore ways in which our two countries can work to promote political leadership to drive sustainable low-carbon investment, knowledge and innovation for commercial application. Hosted by David Cameron, it will bring together politicians, academics and business leaders from the UK and India and will build upon the firm foundations we have already secured with our Indian counterparts. 

Promoting a global low-carbon, high-growth economy is one of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's strategic priorities. It will remain so we if we are elected to serve as the next government. The FCO has done a great deal of good work in climate diplomacy in recent years and I intend to ensure that it has the resources and high-level support to continue. As the issue of climate change cuts across many different departments and is connected to our national security, it will be one of the focal issues of the National Security Council we plan to establish. This will replace the sofa-style governance of Number 10 we have witnessed in recent years and will bring together the work of the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence, the Home Office, the Department for International Development and the Department for Energy and Climate Change. It will be chaired by the Prime Minister and by the Foreign Secretary in his absence and be a real centre of decision-making. Cross-departmental working is critical to the successful execution of foreign and security policies, something which other governments are also trying to improve. Earlier this year the US administration announced that it would institute a Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. It will examine the issue of climate change as one of the range of global threats, challenges and opportunities facing the US over the next two decades, and should be studied as a possible strategic review model for this country aswell.

I said earlier that I would return to Britain's opportunity to work within the EU framework in developing and implementing effective new legislation. Conservative MEPs have already led the debate in shaping EU policy on climate change, resisting those that argued for a watered-down approach in the light of the global economic downturn. They have consistently supported and strengthened the EU climate change and energy package; calling for ambitious measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Conservative Ministers would also be powerful advocates of concerted European action, ensuring that tackling climate change and moving to a low carbon economy are central priorities for the EU.  This would include moving to a 30% emissions reduction target by 2020 on 1990 levels when a legally binding treaty is agreed. This an important signal to the rest of the world of the UK's and EU's ambitions, although the emerging science suggests that this ambition may need to be higher still in the future if we are to hold the rise in global temperatures to less than two degrees.

We will stand for an EU that looks out to the world and supports developing countries in their efforts to tackle climate change. We want to see - indeed the whole world wants to see - an ambitious global deal to limit emissions and make available substantial financial resources for adaptation and mitigation. As Greg Clark has made clear, binding global mechanisms are by far the best way to lock-in international adaptation and mitigation commitments.

In the meantime, public finance will be required to focus in the short and medium term on adaptation, capacity building, and technology research, development and demonstration. In the case of combating deforestation, it will be the predominant incentive until 2020 as it is unlikely that rainforests will be included in the carbon market before then, not least because of the need for capacity building in developing countries.

There are strong arguments for the EU to make a single global offer channelling such funding through the EU budget, as the best and most constructive way forward. In the light of this I have several announcements to make today about future Conservative policy towards the EU and the environment.

First of all I can tell you that it will be a priority of a Conservative government to push for fundamental reform of the EU budget in the forthcoming negotiations of the 2014- 2020 financial framework to redirect resources towards addressing climate change and energy security. The EU currently only spends €120 million a year, from a total annual budget amounting to €141 billion, towards the sustainable management of natural resources in developing countries. In the midst of a global recession, now is not the time to be looking to put extra billions into the EU budget. Indeed we have argued for the EU to deliver more for less and we have promised to oppose all wasteful spending throughout the EU, not least European Parliament meetings in Strasbourg.

But we wholeheartedly agree with the statement in the EU Commission's draft EU Budget Review which argues that "in order to participate more effectively in global efforts to confront the challenges the world will be facing in the 21st century, EU spending priorities will have to be redefined", and that a priority axis should be climate and energy, to use the budget "to leverage the technological revolution needed in terms of energy efficiency and supply, transport infrastructures and other mitigation and adaptation activities, notably with regard to natural resources."

My second commitment is that we will want to see, from within a reformed EU budget, additional and significant financial support given to developing countries to halt global deforestation rates. Emissions from deforestation account for 17.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions - this is more than the whole global aviation and transport sector - and forest resources directly contribute to the livelihoods of 90% of the 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty. Stopping deforestation can be a major contribution to reducing emissions, and in principle it can be done quickly and at reasonable cost.

My third commitment today consists of three key policies we will pursue to address illegal logging. First, we will press in the European Parliament and at the European Council for strengthening the current draft Regulation requiring that only legally harvested timber and timber products should be made available on the market.

Second, we will introduce new criminal offences under UK law for the import and possession of illegal timber.  Last year the US made it illegal for a person or company to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire or purchase timber or timber products illegally taken, harvested, possessed, transported, sold or exported.

The Environment Secretary Hilary Benn has said himself that "illegal timber should be just that-illegal." But the actual position of his department is that "The UK Government cannot institute legal proceedings in the UK relating to a breach or breaches of sovereign laws in another country". There is no reason why it should not be possible to create an offence of selling or distributing imported wood illegally harvested in its country of origin, or, indeed, of importing such wood into the UK. We will legislate to this effect and send a message to the rest of Europe that we are ready to lead on closing the market to illegally harvested timber.

Third, we will pay particular attention to trade agreements with developing countries which have large rainforests. As the world's largest trading bloc the EU's trade policies have a significant impact on global development and Conservative MEPs have made every effort to ensure Economic Partnership Agreements deliver freer and fairer trade for developing countries.

We fully support the EU's pursuit of a mutually beneficial trade deal with Peru and Colombia. But we take note of concerns that an EU-Peru free trade agreement could potentially create perverse incentives for large-scale deforestation by foreign investment in oil, mining and mahogany logging concessions as well as damaging the rights of indigenous people. The Peruvian Amazon is the world's fourth-largest rainforest and without urgent action to halt deforestation we do not have a chance of beating global climate change. It must be protected from deforestation and the rights of indigenous people throughout the Amazon and the Andes must be protected.

We welcome the Government's work with the EU to ensure a strong chapter on sustainable development in the free trade agreements with Peru and Colombia, and its collaboration with other Member States to improve the Sustainability Impact Assessment process. This work will be considered of great importance and will be followed up with great vigilance under an incoming Conservative government. 

Climate change will test the international community in new ways. Cause and effect cannot be predicted or identified with complete confidence, but it will add further uncertainty and tension to a world already facing complex, rapid, and unprecedented change.  I have today outlined the implications that climate change will have on international relations and on our individual and collective security and set out how Conservative foreign policy will meet the challenge. The task that lies before us can only truly be solved by working through international organisations such as the UN, EU, NATO and the Commonwealth, and we will push for more concerted EU action, especially on protecting rainforests and on fundamental reform of the EU budget to redirect resources to tackle climate change. We will work with international partners such as the largest carbon emitters the US, China and notably India, whilst not forgetting that the countries who are most likely to experience the detrimental impact of climate change are often amongst the poorest and will require financial assistance. Climate change will remain a major strategic focus for the FCO and our new National Security Council will co-ordinate our approach across all departments at the highest Ministerial level. We will do our utmost to lead the global, collective response and if climate change negotiations continue into next year they will be one of the priorities of an incoming Conservative government. We have the vision, ideas, energy and "confident internationalism" necessary to address the world's global environmental challenges and will devote our full efforts to ensure that we are equal to the task.

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