UK appoints ‘climate ambassador’

The UK has appointed a special representative on climate change. John Ashton, a career diplomat and government adviser, will be charged with building new international partnerships to tackle climate change.

His appointment, as Margaret Beckett’s representative, follows her move from the environment portfolio to become Foreign Secretary.

Friends of the Earth welcomed the move, but warned that Britain’s position was undermined by its rising emissions.

“One of the areas where climate change needs to be prioritised by the British government is in the diplomatic service, and we do need someone who can help Britain maximise its leverage in countries across the world,” Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth (FoE) UK told the BBC News website.

“We welcome John Ashton in this role – he is a proven advocate with a track record in helping to move the global community forward on climate change, notably in terms of persuading Russia to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.”

Corridors of power

A science graduate, Mr Ashton has spent most of his career in the diplomatic service and the Foreign Office (FCO).

He was an advisor to Hong Kong Governor Chris Patten, as Britain prepared to hand the then colony back to China.

More recently Mr Ashton headed the FCO’s Environment, Science and Energy department, before leaving to form a totally new scheme called E3G, a “change agency”, which has brokered deals on climate and energy between developed and developing countries.

Mr Ashton hopes to use this experience in his new role, which he describes as an “exciting but daunting challenge”.

“Last year the UK and the prime minister himself created a new situation on climate change,” he told the BBC News website.

“By using the G8 presidency in the way he did, he opened an international conversation at head of government level on climate change and recognising the scale and severity of challenge.

“The challenge now is to give a sense of direction to that, to create an international framework capable of mobilising the investment decisions which will be necessary to drive the shift from a high-carbon economy to a low-carbon economy,” Mr Ashton outlined.

Mrs Beckett said she was delighted that Mr Ashton had accepted the new post: “He has an international track record as an effective negotiator – something I saw at first hand in Johannesburg and other UN climate change talks.

“Climate change remains the biggest long term challenge this planet faces. Its uniquely global danger demands an urgent and sustained international response in which the Foreign Office has a key role, and I am confident John with his trademark energy will enhance our work,” she said.

He will be charged with building relationships between governments and businesses, and between radically divergent philosophies on how to tackle human-induced climate change.

While United Nations negotiations on limiting emissions beyond the Kyoto Protocol struggle for momentum, other initiatives have emerged.

Notable among these are the moves begun last year under the British G8 presidency, and the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate.

In another move to strengthen the UK’s commitment to the G8 climate agreement, former Environment Minister Elliot Morley has been appointed as special representative on the Gleneagles Dialogue.

Mr Morley, who was appointed at Tony Blair’s request, will report to Environment Secretary David Miliband.

Home delivery

But some observers, including Tony Juniper, believe Britain’s ability to persuade other countries to curb climate change is compromised by its own rising carbon dioxide emissions.

“The impact of the government’s advocacy with other countries would be very much enhanced if it was able to meet its own targets at home,” he said.