The Diplomatic Dispatch

The British Ambassador to Sweden blogs on The Local

Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

A Tale of Three Cities

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

Today I am pleased to welcome a guest blogger on my blog, Sir David King, The Foreign Secretary’s Special Representative on Climate Change. He recently visited Stockholm, Copenhagen and Oslo and shares his experiences of sustainable urban transport:

Sustainable Transport:  A Tale of Three Cities.  It was the worst of times for the climate; it was the best of times for low-carbon solutions.

I recently visited the three Scandinavia capitals and in every one was really impressed with the innovation underway to provide the cities with technology for more sustainable transport.  It was interesting to see where there are common challenges but different solutions and how policy is delivering the low-carbon mobility shift.

In Stockholm we were proudly taken on the first test drive of a new plug in electric hybrid bus.  The project is part of the EU Zero Emission Urban Bus System, which includes trials in London and Glasgow.  We’re use to seeing hybrid buses in the UK, but the Stockholm project aims to take the technology further to eliminate the need to use combustion engines by charging the bus on route.   The Stockholm project are using overhead chargers, whilst other projects such as Glasgow are using inductive chargers places under the road. Each type of charger has its own issues with planning and longevity.  Whilst the overhead structures take up space and may receive local objections, in-road chargers may be subject to interruption from road and pipe repairs.

In Copenhagen I got to try out their new daily hire bikes.  Copenhagen already has a huge bike community, with over 220 miles of cycle lanes as well as dedicated signs and lights. 36 % of Copenhageners commute by bike daily, travelling more than 600,000 miles in total.  The hire bikes make this even easier with built in dynamo electric engines and a GPS-enabled tablet on the handlebar.  It took a bit of getting use to, but once you start pedalling the motor kicks in and assists you.  You also have to get used to back pedalling for brakes. This stumped a couple of colleagues who regularly cycle to work in London with two handlebar brakes! Copenhagen aims to become the cycling capital of the world, making it even faster and easier to get around town on two wheels, as a key part of the strategy to become the first CO2-neutral capital by 2025.

A highlight for me was the world’s first Tesla taxi in Oslo.  Based on charging at home, these 100% electric taxis can give you a 300 mile capacity from an overnight 10 hour charge.  When superchargers are rolled out to public charging stations they will provide a 170 mile capacity in a 30 minute charge.  With Norway’s renewable electricity supply, the Tesla taxis in Oslo are truly sustainable and a symbol of a successful policy to stimulate consumer demand for low-carbon vehicles.  These cars have even impacted on the lives of the drivers.  One driver told us how, since having his Tesla, he’s looked at his own home heating.  He has now stopped used oil and wood and installed a heat pump.

These are excellent examples of how cities and policymakers are delivering more sustainable urban transport solutions.  The green technology shift is well under way in the three Scandinavian capitals.  But these successes cannot be looked at in isolation.  City planning needs to take a holistic approach and look at low carbon solutions across the spectrum, from lighting to rubbish to water management, and implement each in a coordinated way, ensuring minimum disruption.

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Europe: After the Vote

Monday, June 30th, 2014

Much ink has already been spilled (or many keys have already been tapped) in analysing the European Council’s decision to nominate Jean-Claude Juncker to head the European Commission.

My government has been clear that the decision was wrong in principle, as a matter as process and as an issue of policy.

For that reason the UK stood up for the principle that the European Council – the elected national leaders – should be the ones to propose the Commission President, not be dictated to by political groups in the European Parliament.

This was a position shared by all three main political parties in Britain. In the UK, as in most other EU countries, the so-called Spitzencandidates had been invisible in the elections. The notion that they automatically represented the conscious choice of a European demos is nonsense.

So it was important and welcome that the European Council agreed to review what has happened and to consider how we handle the appointment of the next Commission President. We need to ensure we get a choice of high-quality candidates in the future.

This whole process has reinforced my Prime Minister’s conviction, as he said in Brussels, that the EU needs to change to address the concerns of citizens across Europe and thus close the gap between people in Europe and the EU institutions.

For us, it’s clear that the status quo – “Brussels as usual” – is not right for the EU of today, let alone that of tomorrow. We won’t be able to sustain a diverse, flexible and competitive continent unless we look the challenges and opportunities of modernity and globalisation in the face.

The Prime Minister was clear that Britain’s national interest still lies in our membership of a reformed EU and that he is determined to achieve that through discussion and renegotiation.

He, with others, secured progress in a number of important respects at the Council:

For the first time all Member States have agreed that the EU will need to address Britain’s concerns about the EU in the next few years. We know these are shared by others.

Leaders have also agreed that “ever closer union” allows for different paths of integration for different countries and to respect the wish of those who do not want deeper integration.

We have also embedded Britain’s push for reform, which is shared by other Partners, in the Council’s mandate for the Commission for the next five years:

-prioritising work to building stronger economies and creating jobs.

-making clear the EU should only act where it makes a real difference – leaving it to nation-states where it doesn’t.

– giving national parliaments a stronger role.

– tackling issues that worry voters such as the abuse of free movement in certain countries.

Of course, this is only a start and more change is needed. The PM accepts that what happened in Brussels on Friday will make reform tougher and the stakes higher. But he’s clear that reforming the EU and the UK’s role within is necessary and also achievable.

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A Royal Return Visit

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

One of the highlights of my time so far in Stockholm was the visit by The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall in March 2012.  Just over 18 months later, The Crown Princess and Prince Daniel are visiting London this week. The themes for the visits are very similar: young people, technology, climate change, entrepreneurship and innovation.

The Royal couple will visit an inner London school, and the UK’s IT hub at Tech City in the East end of London. They’ll meet the Mayor of London, and the Lord Mayor of the City of London.  The Lord Mayor kindly gave two scholarships recently to bright young Swedes.

The Crown Princess and Prince Daniel will also visit Cambridge, to see a Skanska housing project, and, at the University, to discuss conservation, local and international sustainability solutions, international Governance and Human Rights.

The overlap in themes between the 2012 and 2013 visits is no surprise: it illustrates just some of the areas where Sweden and the UK, public and private sectors alike, have so much in common and so much to discuss.

It will be a privilege to accompany the Royal Couple and, once the visit is over, to have a cup of tea with the Dean of Trinity College, Cambridge, not just a brilliant academic, but the vicar that married my lovely wife and me!

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The Green Growth Group Summit

Monday, October 28th, 2013
Today on the 28 October in Brussels, a large group of key EU Ministers and business people, including UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Edward Davey, and Swedish Environment Minister Lena Ek, will meet to discuss green growth. They all have a stake in resolving a challenge which, although it is crucial to the countries represented, stretches far beyond them. How can countries in Europe tackle climate change, ensure secure and affordable energy supplies, maintain businesses’ competitiveness and, importantly, keep domestic bills down?
The Green Growth Group of Ministers from 13 like-minded EU Member States, including the UK and Sweden meets regularly to help drive Europe in a low-carbon, pro-growth direction. Together it represents 75% of Europe’s population, 85% of Europe’s GDP and 60% of the votes in the Council of Ministers. As set out in its joint publication today, Going for Green Growth: the case for ambitious and immediate EU low carbon action, the group believes that we can turn the necessary action to tackle climate change into an opportunity, not a burden.
The latest report from the International Panel on Climate Change makes the situation crystal clear. If we continue to pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at the rate we are now, we’re heading for a world potentially 4°C hotter than today. According to UK Government-commissioned analysis published today, to keep climate change within the 2°C threshold scientists agree will be manageable, by 2030 the EU will need to reduce emissions by at least 50% on 1990 levels.
Europe has made a good start in making the necessary transition to a low carbon-future. But more needs to be done. The 2020 climate and energy targets are fast approaching their sell by date and need to be projected forward to 2030 and beyond. The EU Emissions Trading System needs radical surgery if it is to achieve all that it was put in place to do. In two years, world leaders will meet to agree a global and comprehensive climate change agreement; we do not have long.
Constructing modern low-carbon energy infrastructure across Europe will provide jobs for EU citizens, profits for EU businesses and growth for EU economies. It will also improve the EU’s energy security, reducing dependence on expensive fossil fuels imported from risk-ridden regions, in favour of home-grown energy. In the long-term, this course we have chosen will help keep our energy bills down.
Low carbon business is big business: globally, it is worth around €4 trillion a year; 4% annual growth is expected for the next five years; it supports almost 8 million jobs across Europe, with the capacity for millions more. EU Member States have a 22% share of this global market, compared with a 19% share for the US, 13% for China and 6% for both India and Japan. This is worth over €900bn a year.
So the prizes are significant.
But the EU’s competitors, led by China and the US, are aggressively targeting the low carbon goods and services market. Global clean energy investments have grown sixfold since 2004 to nearly €195bn. In 2009, the EU gained 40% of that investment. Last year that share had fallen to just 25%. This is why we must act together – and ambitiously – to maintain and build on our leading position in clean technology.
As a priority, we need to provide confidence and stability for potential investors. Businesses want a good reason to continue investing in low-carbon Europe, which is why the Green Growth Group is clear on the need for an ambitious EU 2030 Energy and Climate Change package, which would give businesses and investors the confidence to invest now.
We will also need to complete the internal energy market. To function properly and integrate a new generation of low carbon electricity supplies,
we must ensure the free and unhindered flow of low-carbon electricity across Europe’s borders.
And this must be done at a cost that is as low as possible – to our citizens and to our businesses. This means that countries need the flexibility to decarbonise in the way that best suits them. But specific help may also be needed. Like many countries, the UK has put in place measures to ensure that our energy-intensive industries are supported through the transition, in line with state-aid rules. We also keep under continuous review the impact our domestic green policies are having on energy bills. This is of primary importance in these financially difficult times.
There is simply no possibility of achieving our shared aims – energy security which both our societies and our planet can afford – without working together. When negotiating with the super-economies of the US, China and others, by acting as one on climate change, the nations of the EU are vastly more influential than if they were acting alone.
Mette Kahlin, Political Attaché

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Climate change: an economic opportunity

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

Just over a year ago on a warm August afternoon, I paid a call on the Environment Minister, Lena Ek.  She had an idea she wanted to share with the UK about the campaign for action on climate change.

Twelve months on, that idea has been launched as a major international effort in New York, just as the UN’s Climate Change panel (IPCC) has underlined the scale of the challenge with its fifth assessment report, published last week in Stockholm.

Lena Ek’s idea was an new assessment of the economic costs and benefits of tackling climate change, not least to show how decarbonisation of our economies could bring opportunities for business as well as costs.

The UK was positive to the idea and Sweden and we have now teamed up with Colombia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, South Korea and Norway.

The New Climate Economy is the flagship project of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate and will bring together a group of the world’s leading economists, policy and business experts to analyse and share the economic opportunities and risks that arise from climate change.

The project aims to give new, independent and expert insights on the debates around ‘green growth’.  Its starting point will not be climate change policy, but economic growth and development and the key economic priorities of governments, cities, businesses and investors.

We do not know what the final report will say.  And indeed that’s the point.  This will be an independent analysis of the evidence without pre-conceived views or conclusions.

The basis for its research programme will be the continuing need for growth and development in the world today.  It will focus on poverty reduction and job creation and the achievement of wider development priorities, including food security, energy access, urban planning, sustainable land use, natural resource efficiency, and cleaner air and water.

By consulting directly with, for example, finance ministries, business leaders, city mayors and major investors, the experts will analyse how the economic decisions affecting climate change are made.  The findings will be used to show how policy and investments can take climate risks and opportunities into account in a better way.

The report, to be published in September 2014, will make recommendations to governments and the private sector on how to achieve lower-carbon economic growth and development.

The New Climate Economy project aims to drive economic action and to inform global economic debate in the run-up to the UN Secretary General’s Leaders’ Summit on Climate Change in 2014, and the International Climate Change Conference in Paris in 2015.

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Climate challenges after Doha – some light amidst the gloom

Monday, December 17th, 2012

The latest round of international talks on climate change ended last weekend in Doha. One of my previous postings was at the UK Mission to the UN so I have firsthand experience of how exhausting and difficult these huge international negotiations can be.

From a distance, the outcome from Doha looks like a modest step forward. In short, the Kyoto Protocol will continue past this year, and we have up until 2020 to get a new legally binding agreement for the period after 2020, when the Kyoto Protocol has expired

However, we still need countries to do more and be more ambitious about reducing their emissions if we are going to avoid irreversible climate change and prevent devastating global warming.

As things stand, the world is plainly not on track to keep the global temperature increase from climate change below two degrees centigrade, which is generally regarded as global warming’s danger threshold.

The UK, with Sweden and other EU partners, will be working over the next year to ensure the next round of discussions yields more progress and that we play our part in lowering global emissions.

There are rays of light amidst the gloom.

We have seen serious action by many countries, including some of the big emitters. Brazil has reduced deforestation by around two thirds since 2004.  Korea is spending two per cent of its GDP on the low-carbon economy.  China has embedded energy efficiency and renewables targets in its latest five-year plan, and is testing carbon markets in seven of its provinces.

In the UK, our Carbon Budgets provide a target of an 80 per cent emissions cut by 2050.  We are acting on energy efficiency and smarter infrastructure.  The UK also recently introduced an Energy Bill which will give investors and industry the framework and the certainty they need to deliver the huge infrastructure investment that the UK’s energy sector requires.

We are on track to meet the milestones set by the EU Renewables Directive and to deliver enough renewable generation capacity to source 30% of the UK’s electricity by 2020.

In the EU, the UK will also continue to argue for increasing ambition, going from a 20% emissions cut to a 30% target by 2020, with a renewed focus on the benefits the Green Economy will provide. We’re delighted that the Green economy will be a focus of the next meeting of UK, Nordic and Baltic Prime Ministers, in Riga early next year.

Our focus on the Green economy in the UK is underpinned by important changes in the real economy.   According to Bloomberg, global investment in renewables overtook that in fossil fuels for the first time last year. We are seeing new renewable energy technologies break into and compete successfully in the market place.  Solar PV has averaged 42% annual growth globally over the last decade; onshore wind has averaged 27%.

In some markets, solar technologies have come down in price by as much as 75% in three years, and are now cheaper than fossil fuels, for example, in many parts of Africa and South Asia.  Companies such as Unilever, Vodafone, Walmart and Kingfisher are setting ambitious targets to make their supply chains more sustainable.  This isn’t just a marketing ploy: rising resource scarcity and climate stress means that sustainable, resilient production makes good business sense.  As we saw in Rio earlier this year, businesses are now increasingly setting the agenda for governments.

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