Ed Davey: “If you’re not going to be green, you’re going to lose business”

Ilario D'Amato
23 November 2015

Rt Hon Edward Davey, former Secretary of State in the UK for Energy & Climate Change

LONDON: “I am optimistic we will get the world’s first-ever global agreement on climate change,” says the Rt Hon Edward Davey, former Secretary of State in the UK for Energy & Climate Change, in The Climate Group’s latest Climate TV interview just a week before the crucial climate talks in Paris kick off.

Talking of his expectations for success in Paris, the former Secretary of State says: “Of course, many of us would like a very ambitious deal, where we really show that the global leaders have agreed together on a path to 2 degrees Celsius. It’s clear we’ll fall short of that, but I don’t think people should be dismayed by that: the fact we’re going to get an agreement and the way that agreement is taking place it’s a real step forward.”


In his interview, Edward Davey analyzes the ‘bottom-up’ approach that has characterized the COP21, with individual countries called to put forward their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to tackle climate change. “Clearly it wasn’t my preferred approach,” he says, “and it wasn’t what the UK really wanted.

“However, in the world of international negotiations sometimes you have to settle for the reality. And the reality was that there are a number of countries, including China and the US, who thought that a top-down approach was a breach of their sovereignty.”

The limits of such an approach are already clear though. INDCs fall short of the 2 degrees Celsius pathway, apaper by the Grantham Institute demonstrated recently. Nevertheless, this means “countries actually have to do the work themselves, rather than just have a given a number,” underlines Edward Davey. “That process itself is forcing their civil servants, businesses, ministers, their machines, to have to come to grips with this challenge.”

This kind of work is fundamental, because when people look at how to fight climate disruption, “they’re going to find it’s a lot easier, and some of their concerns and doubts and fears will gradually be eased,” says the former Secretary of State.


We are at a stage where citizens recognize businesses and governments “are making real commitments, backed up by a program of policies and actions that would deliver those emission reductions,” says Edward Davey.

However, he explains that “another test” of such reductions is the ability of governments and businesses to scale up climate action. ”Whether or not the world agrees to leverage up in the future that this is a first base, but we want to be more ambitious in the future – and there is a mechanism to enable more ambitious commitments and actions [at a later stage]”. Monitoring, reporting, verification and accounting will be important for a successful outcome from COP21.

Paris must produce “an ambitious aggregated pledge from the world,” continues Edward Davey, “and an early pledge to go further, as technology brings down the costs. It must also bridge some of the gaps that we’ve seen in the past, such as ensuring that there’s more trust between developing and developed countries.”


Parties of the negotiations must assure “that money, help and action would be there to deal not only with getting rid of carbon emissions, but also helping with the damage that is already in the can from climate change. Building that trust is going to be critical”.

In fact, there’s no doubt that the wealthiest countries have a moral duty to support developing countries, says Edward Davey, as well as an “enlightened self-interest for helping. If we clean up our activity here in the UK, as we are doing and should do more of, it’s no good if other countries don’t do it as well. Climate change is a common problem.”

During the last 20 years of climate negotiations, the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ on climate change emerged, meaning that the developed countries recognized their historic role in accelerating climate disruption. “Some of us say it’s absolutely right,” says Edward Davey, “but we need to go beyond that – because the world has changed since Kyoto and continues to change at a rapid pace.”

At COP20 in Lima, the principle was expanded with the phrase ‘in light of different national circumstances’, which Edward Davey explains “points us in the right direction about where there could be a landing ground for an agreement.” He adds: “It also pops up in the very important US-China agreement last year. It looks like minor words, but they are really important.”


To put the world on track to bend the curve of climate change, decarbonization and low carbon innovation are “central”, continues Edward Davey. “One of the reasons why we need an agreement, is that businesses, scientists, entrepreneurs, innovators need to know that governments – both in Europe and globally – are taking it seriously, and they are going to do something.

For the same reason, the voice of business can play a crucial role in the climate negotiations in Paris, and it has been “one of the most positive steps forward in recent years,” says Edward Davey. “I would urge businesses to feel that they really are having an effect. I’ve been talking with many businesses through the years, and they are seeing that it’s in their best interest.”

This clean energy revolution is also spurred by the rapid expansion of technology, concludes Edward Davey. “There are massive reductions in cost and the increasing levels of deployment is extremely exciting.

“Looking ahead to some of the research and development that is happening and could happen, particularly in energy storage but also in new transport and so on, I really think that technology is going to make a [Paris] agreement a lot easier. And soon, if you’re not going to be green you’re going to lose business.”

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