Climate change 'demands new diplomacy'

John Ashton said climate change was a `ticking clock`
John Ashton said climate change was a `ticking clock`

By Hannah Brenton

A new "politics driven" diplomatic approach is required to tackle global warming, the Foreign Office's special representative for climate change said yesterday.

Speaking to a packed audience at Chatham House, John Ashton described climate change as a "ticking clock", arguing for binding international agreements to cut emissions and keep world temperatures below two degrees centigrade.

"Only a binding regime can create a force field strong enough to align those countless [individual] choices, and convince those whose capital allocation decisions shape the economy that governments are serious," he said.


Mr Ashton - who first worked for the Foreign Office in 1978 and was appointed as special representative for climate change by the Labour government in 2006 - highlighted the importance of diplomacy in creating an environment where binding agreements could be realised.

"We must establish the political conditions necessary to support the climate treaty we need," he said.

"We need to make the low carbon economy feel more like an opportunity, climate risk feel more threatening; a binding treaty feel more necessary and achievable."

He described the failures of past treaties as largely due to "tensions originating in national politics" and emphasised that "low carbon growth" should be the answer to economic expansion in all the major economies.

The special representative made constant comparison to the diplomacy of the Cold War era and the need for a sense of "imperative".

He said: "In the Cold War, diplomats on either side helped build a shared imperative that operated across frontiers like a political force field, organising entire societies and, yes, legitimising countless individual choices. That is what we need to do now.

"In the Cold War, diplomats like George Kennan forged doctrines that made sense of those choices. The climate project will fail without a doctrine of climate security."

The high-level diplomat said people today needed to feel the same sense of imperative when confronting climate change as they did in the 1980s when facing some of the more frightening images of the Cold War.

"We don't have the equivalent of a mushroom cloud," he said.

Invoking that apocalyptic imagery, Mr Ashton emphasised the need for serious action.

Escalating food and oil prices, coupled with the increasing number of natural disasters linked to climate change, were a testament to the fact climate change is "a today problem not a tomorrow problem".

"The security and prosperity of 60 million British people depend on a successful global response to climate change," he said.

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