Vital UN climate change talks in Copenhagen are likely to collapse unless rich nations agree a "social justice deal" built around equalising emissions per head in each country, according to the former deputy prime minister John Prescott.
Speaking to the Guardian, Prescott admitted that the formula would require far greater sacrifices by rich nations, especially the US. Prescott, one of three politicians to broker the original UN climate change deal in December 1997, is to become deeply involved in trying to ensure there is a successor to Kyoto.
He met leaders of Barack Obama's climate change team in Washington a fortnight ago, and is due to travel to China on 8 September at the same time as Lord Mandelson, the business secretary. He will be given an honorary professorship at Xiamen University for his work on climate change.
Prescott will also stage an international conference from 28 September on the principles of a deal for Copenhagen, to be opened by Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and addressed by Al Gore. The conference, organised by the Council of Europe, will have 65 states present.
Prescott is also going to lead a Gore-style campaign in schools in October showing the film The Age of Stupid, starring Pete Postlethwaite, portraying a devastated planet in 2050 owing to world leaders' failure to act on climate change.
Prescott says: "What I fear is that Copenhagen is a much more difficult nut to crack than Kyoto, far more countries are involved, and we nearly did not succeed at Kyoto. It took a last-minute fix. There are going to be real difficulties, even among the rich countries themselves."
He is doubtful that the EU member states will even stick to the commitments they make. "For a deal to work it has to have a formula that has an element of equity and social justice in it that reflects the state of each country's industrial development and its emissions per capita."
China now emits more carbon than America in absolute terms, owing to the size of its population, but in per capita terms the US emits four or five times as much. Prescott warns: "Rich countries are showing great reluctance to face up to the reality of what rationing carbon means for levels of growth and prosperity in their countries. It is going to be a fundamental change."
The EU has committed itself to an 80% cut by 2050 and a 20% cut by 2020. The US Senate is due to pass a cap-and-trade bill to cut greenhouse gas emissions by only 17% from 2005 levels by 2020. But even this proposal, regarded as far too little by China and India, is meeting fierce resistance from the US coal industry, which is pouring cash into a lobbying campaign to weaken the resolve of Democrat senators. Prescott says: "From speaking to the Americans I can already see it is clear that they are going to have difficulties even meeting the European target. The steel and coal companies are financing the same kind of campaigns against Copenhagen as they financed against Kyoto.
"What is vital is that America and China come to an agreement, and at the heart of that will be an arrangement on the coal industry. China depends for 70% of its energy on coal, and the US still has a massive coal industry. Coal is still going to remain at the heart of global energy. A realistic agreement will have to recognise coal. You cannot shut it down.
"The west is going to come up with big money on how to finance alternative energy in the developing countries, including clean coal. We have got to crack clean coal technology. China and India are going to want to know how many billions the rich countries are going to put aside to help them make their carbon contributions. That will be one of the big tests at Copenhagen. The fact is that the west has poisoned the world and left continents like Africa in poverty. The west will have up to stump up the cash for clean technology."
Both Chinese and Indian climate negotiators have recently again refused to offer any targets to cut their emissions. They are insisting that the EU and the US commit themselves to 40% cuts in emissions by 2020 against 1990 baselines. Neither the US nor the EU are anywhere near this position.
Prescott says any agreement cannot be based on 1990 levels for developing countries. "They did not have industrial development at that stage, so we are fighting for the principle of an objective based on carbon tonnes per capita. That is the fairest way forward."
Copenhagen, he argues, will represent a major infringement on free market economies, even though it will use market mechanisms such as cap and trade to set a price for carbon through rationing.
Copyright Speakers Corner 2017