World leaders gathering in New York to reach a global agreement on climate change have big money behind them
India’s recent elections – says Britain’s Energy Secretary, Ed Davey - have “changed the mood” in another traditionally reluctant nation. Navendra Modi, the new prime minister, boosted renewables while serving as chief minister of Gujerat, and Davey says he “has the will and commitment” to do the same nationally.
By contrast, the EU - which led the push for change in Copenhagen – has been growing less enthusiastic, and the new president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, seems determined to downgrade the issue.
The emerging agreement, too, is totally different from the one on the Copenhagen table. That sought to set a global ceiling on greenhouse gas emissions and then divide them between nations. This one starts at the other end, with governments pledging what they think they can achieve – a concept originally advanced by George W Bush.
For the first time all nations, including the smallest and least polluting, will join in. But the scheme has an obvious flaw. It’s most unlikely that the pledges will be nearly enough to head off serious climate change; PricewaterhouseCoopers has calculated that international efforts would have to increase fivefold to do so.
But it is the best that is reasonably achievable. And the, not unrealistic, hope is that – once a clear signal is given that the future is low carbon – the competitive power of capitalism will rapidly cause the world to exceed the targets.
Yet, disappointingly, Modi, China’s president Xi Jinping, and chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany won’t be at the New York summit. Inevitably their absence diminishes it – but, equally, it opens up an opportunity for David Cameron. Every British prime minister for the past 35 years has played a central, constructive – and often crucial – role in climate negotiations; Cameron, more than any since Margaret Thatcher, firmly believes in their importance.
He has, of course, been pretty quiet on the issue of late. But, as the last week north of the Border has shown, critical times call for the courage of prime ministerial convictions.