9 Sep 2013

Britain leads by example in fight to combat climate change

4:25 pm on 9 September 2013

The British Minister of State says his country is leading by example in the fight to combat climate change.

Hugo Swire says Britain is strongly supportive of the Majuro Declaration on Climate Change which was adopted by Pacific leaders during last week's summit in the Marshall Islands.

The Declaration asks nations to commit to being leaders on the issue and to start by setting limits on greenhouse gas production.

Mr Swire told Giff Johnson that Britain has already enshrined in law cuts of 80% by 2050.

HUGO SWIRE: We're leading by example. We're also one of the biggest funders of climate change finance and other assistance, both directly here - 60 million in the Pacific over the last few years - and also through the European development fund, where we're the third largest donor. So I think we can bring them an example of how seriously we take it. We can bring them some much-needed finance, and we can bring them much-needed advice, as well, and technical know-how in some of our green energies that we are perfecting back in the UK. I think we want to be a strong advocate for what they're doing here, both within the Commonwealth and at the UN because we believe this is absolutely right. The difference between many of us in the West, if you like, and those of you who live here in this part of the world is this is really the cutting edge, the coal face, of where climate change is actually affecting people's everyday lives, and that's something that needs to be tackled immediately. There's no room for complacency, there's no further room for inaction. Actually, there's no further room for discussion. There's now got to be direct action and we stand ready to help the pacific islanders in doing that.

GIFF JOHNSON: Having been in Majuro and hearing the discussion from the various forum members during the week and at the dialogue, does this inspire you or encourage you, when going back, to greater advocacy on this issue?

HS: Yes, I think both. I'm not a climate change minister back in the UK, I'm a foreign office minister. But we've talked a lot about climate change diplomacy in the last few days and that's a terribly important part of it. We really do need to draw to the world's attention more than we have done perhaps in the past, what is actually happening in this part of the world on a day-to-day basis. And I think I certainly have got the point. When you come here you see the highest point on the atoll. There's the bridge which is just about three metres above sea level. That kind of brings it home pretty quickly.

GJ: A question about development aid. This is an era of tighter budgets. We're seeing the possibility that the Australian aid budget may be substantially reduced in the coming years. Over the recent past years, the UK had reduced its presence in the Pacific, compared to where it was 30 or 40 years ago. Could you talk about this, both in the context of climate change, but broader than climate change, do you see the UK engaging in new different development-type aid programmes in the region?

HS: I think the first thing is the UK is committed to providing just under 3 billion through the UK's international climate fund - that's between 2011 and 2015 - to help developing countries adapt to the impact of climate change. And we're providing another 969 million pounds, almost 1 billion pounds, of finance for the international climate fund for 2015 and 2016. These are huge amounts of money, and they can be used in this part of the world, clearly. But you say we're disengaged from this region. We have a huge continuing interest in the region, not least because we have some realms here, we have fellow Commonwealth members here. The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall were here recently. Who could forget the visit recently of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge? So there is a continuing affection and historical link and a willingness and a desire to engage with the region, but clearly we are geographically quite far away. We think the most pressing need for this part of the world is climate change. That's why we are providing access to finance and access to know-how. But we also believe, actually, that we can't do it all from the West. Countries in the region have to be able to have the infrastructure and have to have the ability to deliver themselves. What they need, I think, are strong advocates around the world. The point you made earlier, does this make me more enthused and more determined to go home and raise what's going on here? Yes, it does. But in terms of aid... The other thing is trade. We are passionate traders in the UK. That's how we develop these friendships, partnerships and relationships over the years in the first place. And we are trying to up-skill our trade and increase the levels of bilateral trade between this part of the world and the UK. And that's the benefit of everyone. And then I think, in addition, the post-millennium development goals do have things in them which very much chime with what the Pacific Islands are trying to do, like corporate governance, the elimination of poverty and other issues which completely resonate. And there's a meeting next year in Samoa, as you know, where some of these things will be discussed. There's a tremendous read-across between what we're trying to do back in the UK, what we're trying to do internationally, and what the pacific islands themselves are trying to do. And I think if there's anything, there's sometimes a disconnect between what we think we can do and what we can bring to the party, as it were, and actually the Islanders and the countries in the region themselves finding out how to access some of these things that are available to them. I think that's the challenge.

GJ: A number of the prime ministers and presidents here talked about this difficulty of accessing aid. Is that something that can be taken into consideration, given that there are these amounts pledged or out there in the international community, but a difficulty with people actually accessing them.

HS: I think it's right. I think it's worth saying that there are huge amounts of money out there, and that money has to be spent properly and accounted for properly. So it can't just be given out here and there. It seems to me the disconnect is the infrastructure within some of recipient countries, and being able to handle that and process that and find out how to access that. So I think that is an area that needs to be looked at very quickly. There was a discussion incidentally, this morning about the world bank and accessing funds from there, as well. So it's not just on climate change, it's on poverty eradication and so forth. But that seems to me to be worth a chance. I think the goodwill from the international community is there, I think the funding is there, I think the technical know-how is certainly there. What I think is not there is the ability from some of the island states to actually find out how best to access these funds and where to most properly use them.