Healthy climate ‘must ensure prosperity’

The UK Chancellor has urged countries to work together for a healthier climate to ensure economic prosperity.

Gordon Brown was addressing ministers from 20 countries, who are meeting to discuss climate change and how to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

He told delegates that the UK had managed to cut carbon emissions without harming economic growth.

Mr Brown said economies could only flourish if the environment on which they depended was looked after.

“If our economies are to flourish, if global poverty is to be banished, and the well-being of the world’s people enhanced, we must make sure we take care of the natural environment and resources on which our economic activity depends,” Mr Brown said in his speech.

“Environmental issues – including climate change – have traditionally been placed in a category separate from the economy. But this is no longer tenable.”

Kyoto Protocol

The informal meeting to exchange ideas on how to tackle climate change is being attended by representatives from the G8 group of rich nations, as well as ministers from emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil.

Britain has made tackling global warming a priority for its presidency of the Group of Eight industrialised nations – and Prime Minister Tony Blair has said that securing US support poses a significant diplomatic challenge.

“There is an attempt to draw the United States in after its refusal to [ratify] Kyoto,” said a Greenpeace spokesman.

The Kyoto treaty, which came into effect last month, aims to cut the carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions of industrialised nations to 5% below 1990 levels by 2012.

But the US administration has argued that meeting the target would cost millions of US jobs, many of them “exported” to developing countries where pollution would continue anyway.

“The target that was given to the United States was so unreasonable in our ability to meet it that the only way we could have met it was to shift energy intensive manufacturing to other countries,” James Connaughton, head of the White House Council on Environment Quality, told the BBC.

“That has economic effects and that also has job effects.”

Green technologies

Mr Connaughton repeated Washington’s demand for greater investment in scientific research to boost green technologies, so that economies could grow without damaging the environment.

“The [Kyoto] protocol was well intentioned, but I think it produced some quite consequential, unintended effects and we are trying to now find a portfolio in which three words are important: technology, technology and technology,” he said.

The challenge of developing such technology is likely to dominate discussions on Tuesday. Tony Blair, like Washington, is encouraging countries to boost research into green technology.

He also wants to build a solid international consensus that global warming poses a serious threat, and that it is caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

Gordon Brown, too, has little doubt about the cause of climate change and its potential effects.

“Across a range of environmental issues, it is clear now not just that economic activity is their cause, but that these problems in themselves threaten future economic activity and growth,” he said.

However, Mr Connaughton appears to have reservations about a direct scientific link between humans and climate change.

He told the BBC: “We are still working on the issue of causation, the extent to which humans are a factor, but they may be, as well our understanding of what effects may result from that over the course of the next century.”