MPs and peers should do more to alert the public to the importance of a treaty on climate change, which is being negotiated for a crucial United Nations conference in Copenhagen in December, Lord Stern of Brentford said today (27 October 2009) ahead of a special symposium at the Houses of Parliament.

Lord Stern, who sits as an independent cross-bench peer in the House of Lords, said: “MPs and peers can play an extremely valuable role over the next 40 days before the start of the Copenhagen conference. We have a responsibility to explain to the public why a strong treaty on climate change is so important, the choices on offer, and the magnitude of the issues.”

“It is absolutely vital that citizens in the UK and around the world understand just what is at stake. These negotiations will have a profound impact on the kind of world our children, our grandchildren and future generations will live in.”

“The choice is stark. If we take strong and effective action now to tackle the causes and consequences of climate change, we can create a bright future of sustainable growth and prosperity across the world built on a low-carbon economy. It will be a future of new and exciting possibilities and opportunities, a more dynamic period of innovation than ever before in human history. It will also mean that we can rise effectively to the other defining challenge of this century: overcoming world poverty.”

“But if we fail, and allow less important short-term issues to cloud our judgement, such that we end up with a weak and ineffective treaty, we will condemn the world to a dark future, living in an increasingly hostile climate, and struggling to deal with the mounting risks and hardships that will arise by continuing to follow a high-carbon route towards its inevitable dead end.”

Lord Stern, who is Chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at London School of Economics and Political Science, added: “We must frame properly the choices we face in terms of risks and opportunities over the long term. Too often the short-term investments that are required to make the transition to a low-carbon economy, such as home insulation and electric cars, are portrayed only as added costs and burdens. In fact, they are down payments on creating a brighter future and avoiding the risks from climate change that would result from ‘business as usual’ emissions of climate change.”

“The UK has been a world leader in facing up to the very serious risks posed by climate change. Our scientists have helped to highlight the compelling evidence that greenhouse gas emissions are causing global climate change, and our political leaders have been at the forefront of efforts to co-ordinate a strong international response. But it is now even more important than ever that the UK continues to set an example through its own actions. ‘The UK Low Carbon Transition Plan’, published by the Government earlier this year, has charted a course, and the first annual report to Parliament from the Committee on Climate Change earlier this month described further specific measures, calling for a “step change” in action. Our political representatives should continue to engage with the issues and lead public debate about the choices and decisions we can and must make.”

“The UK can provide an example to the rest of the world by raising the level of debate about climate change, by showing that both our policy-makers and our citizens understand what is at stake, demonstrating that it will deliver on commitments at home, and by working to create the collective will to forge a strong international agreement on climate change.”

The symposium on ‘A global deal on climate change: the challenges between now and December in Copenhagen’ has been organised in association with the All-Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group, which is chaired by Colin Challen MP. The symposium will be chaired by Baroness Hayman, the Lord Speaker, and the speakers will include Lord Stern, Lord Rees of Ludlow (President of the Royal Society), Lord Turner of Ecchinswell (Chairman of the Committee on Climate Change), and the Rt Hon Ed Miliband MP, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

Notes for Editors

  1. Nicholas Stern was recommended as a non-party-political life peer by the UK House of Lords Appointments Commission in October 2007. Baron Stern of Brentford was introduced to the House of Lords in December 2007, where he sits on the independent cross-benches.
  2. The Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment was launched at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) in October 2008. It is funded by The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment.
  3. Lord Stern is also Chair of the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy, which is hosted by the University of Leeds and LSE. It is funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council and Munich Re.
  4. Nicholas Stern was Second Permanent Secretary at HM Treasury between 2003 and 2007. He also served as Head of the Government Economic Service, head of the review of economics of climate change (the results of which were published in ‘The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review’ in October 2006), and director of policy and research for the Commission for Africa. His previous posts included Senior Vice-President and Chief Economist at the World Bank, and Chief Economist and Special Counsellor to the President at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
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