Tony Blair looked greyer than ever as he lightfooted it into the auditorium. “He still hasn’t had the surgery to pin back his ears”, I noted to the chap I had been talking to on my right, “I don’t meant to be rude, but he’s still got that sticky-outy look. I would have thought that would be the first thing he’d do with all the money.”
My conversation partner and I at the Policy Network conference “The Politics of Climate Change : From Economic Crisis to Business Revolution” held at the London School of Economics, had been discussing the merits and numbers of security gentlemen in the room. “They’re so obvious”, he said. “Yes, the way they stand there staring at everyone with their hands clasped in front of their privates”, I said. “Funnily enough, I can’t see any wires in their ears…” and which point one of the beefy suits spoke into his wristwatch.
We had been exchanging on why there were so many spooks with guns in the hall. “Must be for Mr T. Blair”, I asserted, although my correspondent was of the opinion that they were there to protect the Norwegian Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Store.
Later on the London Underground I was to learn that his hunch had probably been correct. Tim Helweg-Larsen (of the Public Interest Research Centre) reminded myself and Oliver Tickell (author of the Kyoto2 book), that Norway had a huge sovereign wealth fund, because they’d taken the decision to “build the fjords” so that they could have massive amounts of hydropower, and so be able to sell all their Petroleum Oil to bulk up the national savings. Jonas represents a lot of hard cash.
“No, they didn’t build the actual fjords”, said Tim when Oliver queried that. “That was Slartibartfast”, I interjected. “No, it was the mice”, said Tim.
Anyway, back to Tony Blair.
He stood erect at the podium, rather like someone had just performed haemorrhoid surgery on him, without anaesthetic, with a blunt rusty penknife.
My right hand man didn’t comment on it, but Tim later did : that Tony Blair’s chest was pushed forward. We agreed that it was either working out on the beach that did it, or the light body armour vest under his shirt. Which would have explained by he sat so awkwardly in the soft red chair on the stage when he finished speaking.
What he actually said at the microphone ? On Climate Change, “this issue is almost the most positive example of modern politics…based on the notion of shared interest”, and that equitable solutions will have to be found.
Global Warming, he explained, is the result of “probably perfectly natural consequences of the increase in industrial activity”, with growth in economies and population “we have a store of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere…on any basic precautionary principle”, it’s worthwhile tackling emissions.
He said that “we are coming together in circumstances where there are still people questioning…for most policymakers worldwide that question is over.”
Now, he argued, the problem is more prosaic, “is there space and time in people’s minds to turn attention to Climate Change ? The Economic Crisis doesn’t stop Climate Change occurring. On the contrary, the Economic Crisis is the reason and the way to move forward…take our environmental responsibility seriously…the very time we should be acting…”
Of the “fiscal stimuli” that have taken place around the world, as governments have purloined, I mean, borrowed, large amounts of public money to save enterprise and banks from collapse, of the “$3trillion worldwide, at least $500billion [will be spent on] Green Energy…This is the very moment we’re going to spend [large] amounts of money…this is the very moment to spend…to grow sustainably.”
He mentioned Energy security from spending less on Oil. He mentioned the Chinese concept of “wei chi” (spelling ?), both a crisis and an opportunity at the same time. He said that in the United Kingdom we already employ more people in environmental technology than on fossil fuels.
Climate Change, he asserted, “requires a change probably as profound as what became the Industrial Revolution. To reach a 60% cut [in anthropogenic surplus Carbon Dioxide emissions] globally by 2050 it will require America to go to a tenth of their per capita emissions [of] today…[when you consider that] for the UK…[the drop from] something like 560 grams of [Carbon Dioxide emissions] per kilowatt hour to 52 – you begin to understand.”
It will require, he reinforced, “a revolutionary change in our behaviour, but it has to take place. At the same time [that] industrial countries decide [how to make emissions cuts] we have to make sure that over time China does not make up for our change in behaviour. How do we create a situation where we take the necessary measures and don’t find them growing at the same rate ?”
“For the policymakers”, he reiterated, “[the matter] has been settled – change is to be revolutionary. How do we take this issue out of the NGO campaigning world and translate it into policy measures ?”
“For the developed world we are going to have to go for Cap and Trade” and link up the systems that are already started. “And for China and India they are not going to take measures we consider necessary unless we take measures…The idea of an interim target is a sign to the developing world that we are serious. We need China and India [to agree to] strong binding programmes to enable substantial change even as they’re growing.”
In order to fulfil our “common but differentiated responsibilities”, the UN speak from the Rio conference of 1992 (if I recall correctly), “it is clear that everyone is going to need obligations. The nature of our obligation will be different than theirs [China and India]. If [we’re going to have successful] Carbon [Cap and] Trading in the developed world, then we need technology transfer [from the developed world to the developing world].”
As if we needed reminding, he reminded us anyway, “in China and India, of the growth in power stations, 70% will be coal-fired. So if we can’t scale up Carbon Capture and Storage we’re going to be in trouble meeting these targets.”
He opined that solar energy has potential to be scaled up. He mentioned that electric motor vehicles are efficient. “70% of what we [need] to do [we] can take from what we’ve got already. Deforestation…specific programme…specifically geared to tackle…When we come to the treaty…we need agreement on specific details.”
There are issues regarding funding all this, and Tony Blair hinted at “reforming the Clean Development Mechanism”. He didn’t think this should be left as a negotiation between finance ministers. He mentioned that “people put forward methods such as [upstream] auctions…[but] we need a mechanism not relying on annual negotiation over amounts.”
As other people said today, he recited, “don’t make the best the enemy of the good. Don’t fixate on specific targets and percentages…Obama…they say [the US has] not done enough – they need to do more. But it’s a very bold [commitment] to take emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020…major change to the American economy. If you look at China’s plan – by 2020 15% Renewable Energy – that is big…the European Union – 30% by 2020 – a deeply profoundly and radically challenging commitment.” Yes, he did actually say “deeply profoundly and radically challenging commitment.”
Mr Blair was upbeat. “We know that science and technology will evolve. There will be solutions we don’t know about now. We need the framework to incentivise…that covers both developed and developing nations…we need a radical [yet] realistic programme to get Copenhagen done. If we get it done it will be a tremendous boost to multilateralism…Obama…[speech in] Cairo…reaching out…Can we as a global collective come together and reach a global agreement ? If we can, the consequences and benefits will be felt as a stimulus of confidence.”
A deal on Climate Change would give us an idea of how to handle other issues, he promised. “Now is the moment when we have to be radical…demand it…but [being] realistic is the only way it gets done.”
So there you have it : slick fudge and compromise as ever. And that from a man in a newly burned tan, judging by his neck. I wondered if his slight tendency to lose his thread during the questions was a sign of early dementia, but I have been reliably informed he always does that as his “inner burble factor” gets confused sometimes and he has to pull himself up short.
He is still, clearly and undeniably, a consummate politician.