Ed Miliband – 2009 Speech to Students at Peking University


Below is the text of the speech which was made by Ed Miliband at Peking University in China on 4th May 2009.

Thank you for inviting me to the beautiful campus of Peking University.

I have come to China to talk to members of the government and others about climate change because this year is a particularly important year, the year that the world has pledged to come together and reach a global agreement at Copenhagen, Denmark in December.

But I wanted to talk to young people too because on this issue more than any other, you will see its effects, and you need to be powerful advocates for it to be addressed.

And I feel very lucky to be talking to you, students in China, on National Youth Day, and the 90th anniversary of the May Fourth Movement – when students from this university wanted to modernise China and make it strong, and changed the course of this country.

I’ve been learning about Cai Yuanpei, the seminal educator and Chancellor of the university 90 years ago, who was such a leading figure in the New Cultural Movement and modernisation. I can’t claim to be an expert, but I know he

– Opened the doors of this University to women, at a time when it was radical to do so – Transformed the faculty to promote diverse views, even those he didn’t agree with – talking of “broad-minded tolerance” and “freedom of thought” – Encouraged students to be more active, managing their own affairs and forming extra-curricular societies.

And just as I was thinking how much I approve, I learned he also founded Beijing University Society for the Promotion of Morality – which is fine – but to get a higher rank within the society members had to swear not to become a government official or a Parliamentarian – which I have to confess I have failed on.

On this trip, I have seen firsthand some of the efforts that in just twenty years lifted more people out of poverty than the whole population of Europe – 400 million.

It must be one of the most rapid and widespread alleviations of human suffering in human history – and I know that completing the journey, maintaining high growth, remains a top priority.

I have spoken to policy-makers about how they are investing in reducing energy intensity.

And yesterday I saw the results of Chinese engineers working with partners abroad to find new solutions to climate change, at a power station that captures carbon dioxide at source instead of pumping it into the sky.

As the manager said to me, “it has succeeded here, it could succeed in every power station”. And if it does, it could make more difference to the generations that follow us than any other technology currently in development.

And this experience illustrates the points I would like to talk about today:

The growth of China – and the impact climate change could have on that growth

The roles and responsibilities of both developed and developing countries to act on climate change

And how we can work together – on technology, finance, and a global deal.

Growth: a resurgent China

First of all, let me say a few words about Chinese growth.

What will be remembered, and seen as one of the most significant events of my lifetime and yours, is the rise of China.

I welcome it.

My country’s government and businesses support it. We are the leading destination for Chinese investment into Europe, and in return we invest more in China than any other European country.

For all countries, the recent financial crisis has sent shockwaves through our economies and none of us have been immune.

We now know how important it is to rebuild our financial system on a sounder footing.

But what we know also is that just as the financial crisis was a hidden vulnerability which unaddressed has significant consequences, so we face the same situation with the climate crisis.

I’ve seen in my own area in Britain what extreme weather can do. Two years ago we had very bad flooding. I arrived in one of the villages, near Doncaster, to see instead of the normal streets I am used to, people in boats and canoes rescuing people from their houses – people who had lost everything they own.

I am going tomorrow to see the Shiyang River Basin, one of the great river systems of north western China. Here, climate change doesn’t mean floods, but droughts.

Climate change makes more profound existing issues, like the growing need for food and water.

That’s now. What happens if climate change continues beyond the most dangerous thresholds? We’re working with the Chinese government to find out.

If we don’t act, scientists tell us that the world will get 5 degrees centigrade hotter by 2100, hotter than it has been for 30-50 million years and human beings have only been on the earth for 100,000 years. And all the evidence is that China’s temperatures will rise more than the global average.

Even if the scientists are wrong and the world temperature rises by three degrees instead of five, this could mean drought in the Ganges and the Indus, water shortages affecting an extra one to two billion people worldwide.

Right here in China, it could mean the Himalayan glaciers melting, the rivers beneath them flooding then running dry, and the Mekong River, for example, losing a quarter of its water by the end of the century.

It could also mean cereal crops declining, the risk of hunger being faced by up to 600 million more people worldwide – and right here in China a fall in rice yields of up to ten per cent. It is equivalent to losing the rice of the whole production of Hunan province, the most productive in China.

Right here in the lowlands and mega deltas of East China, science suggests the sea will rise by 90 centimetres and the number of people at direct risk from coastal flooding will rise by 7 million – plus all the knock-on effects such as migration.

That’s why the world is so focussed on preventing climate change beyond 2 degrees.

Up to this level will see very great challenges for our countries, beyond will see far worse, uncontrollable effects.

Leadership: a responsible China not just acting but inspiring

But we should not succumb to defeatism.

Together we can tackle the problem, on the basis of common but differentiated responsibilities: everyone acting, but on the basis of their responsibility and their capacity to do so.

I believe that rich countries have the moral responsibility and a historic obligation to take the lead.

It was because we believe in rich-country leadership that in Britain, for example, we have written our transformation into a low-carbon economy into law.

Ten years ago I worked in the Treasury in Britain and like all Treasuries they are the people who often say no.

Then, environmentalists were asking us to measure our carbon emissions from particular policies.

Today the world has been transformed.

There is lots of ceremony and tradition in Britain around the announcement of the Budget each year – the chancellor stands in Downing Street, he always holds up a traditional Red Briefcase for photos, Parliamentary debates take a set form.

Well this year we had a new tradition: we became the first country in the world to introduce national carbon budgets alongside national financial budgets.

They commit us to cut at least a third of our emissions by 2020, more if there is a global deal, on the way to cutting at least 80 per cent by 2050.

I believe rich countries should act at home and they should also spur each other on, and that is why we have pressed for ambitious action in the European Union, and now Europe has committed as a continent to cut emissions by 20 per cent by 2020, or 30 per cent if there is a global deal.

In the US too, we are now seeing new environmental leadership.

President Bush envisaged US emissions continuing to rise until 2025. President Obama has said they will cut emissions well before then, falling back to 1990 levels by 2020.

We hope he will go further still, but he has transformed the debate on climate change. I saw it in Washington last week, when I was there with a number of countries including China.

As an emergent great power, China, too, has the ability not just to act but to lead; to be great not just in size but in influence; to energise others around the world.

And what does leadership consist in? What will determine whether China’s actions are followed by others?

Partly it is by spreading the word on China’s successes so far:

How energy intensity of the economy reduced through the 1980 and 1990s from three times what it is today How forest cover doubled over the same time. And it is through the actions you are taking now:

The targets in the five-year plan to reduce energy intensity still further The commitment to 15% renewable power by 2020. But above all, what will elevate Chinese leadership is if this December, when the world comes together in Copenhagen, its ambition is crystallised into a public commitment in a global deal.

And I believe China will commit to ambition.

China’s commitment to this cause will propel others to commit to it too.

So there is great potential for us to act together, on the basis of our responsibilities.

But the clear message I want to say, is that there is huge scope for China, through its commitments, to encourage others to go further and to increase global action.

China has an ability to lead.

Partnership: technology and finance

And I’d also like talk about how we can work together to achieve our ambitions, with partnership and shared goals between countries at different levels of development.

All of us recognise that the world is moving towards low carbon. There are huge industrial opportunities for Britain, China and other countries in this: these are the jobs of the future.

China is investing part of its stimulus plan in low carbon; Britain is preparing too for the low carbon economy of the future.

Co-operation can benefit both of our countries. Today, we are announcing a joint venture between the Carbon Trust and the China Energy Conservation Investment Corporation, with £10 million to help British and Chinese companies work together and learn form each other.

We think there is £100 million of investment that will come from this co-operation, benefitting many British firms and opening new markets.

These firms will benefit from investment by Chinese enterprises, developing low carbon technologies in China.

This is the sort of co-operation we need: joint ventures to further our mutual interests.

And we need to look at this kind of co-operation in other areas, protecting intellectual property –as both of our countries would wish—but at the same time, working together where possible to drive the demonstration and development of new technologies forward.

When I visited the power station yesterday, and saw how they had worked with other countries to demonstrate carbon capture, it showed me very clearly how we both have an interest in driving this technology.

And it was clearly not just a case of one country having the technology, and another being given it. Both sides added knowledge and expertise – and that’s true across the board, for example with the major European partnership for Near-Zero Emissions Coal. The question is, “can we turn coal from the dirty fuel of the past to the clean fuel of the future?”

So that’s why I will be working with China to make sure that driving technology demonstration and development is an important part of any global climate change agreement.

Of course for some countries, particularly less developed countries, technology access is not enough and we also need to find ways of providing finance, including through the carbon market.

And I was only hearing yesterday about how support from the carbon market was bringing international investment into wind farm projects viable in China, diffusing new technology for mutual benefit.

I am clear we also need stable and predictable forms of finance to help make the transition to low carbon – and this too must be part of our agreement in Copenhagen.


Let me end with this thought:

On the dangers of climate change,

On the potential of China to inspire others through international commitments,

And the importance of countries working together,

It is only right that on national Youth Day we think about the role of you, the young people of China.

A seminal figure in the May Fourth Movement, who you will all be more familiar with than me, was Chen Duxiu.

His article that inspired the movement, Call to Youth, said the role of youth in society “is like… a newly-sharpened blade” shaping the new era.

It reminds me of a line by the American Senator, Robert Kennedy, who when touring South Africa in 1968 said that to “lead in the introduction of a new order of things”, “the world demands the qualities of youth; not a time of life but a state of mind”.

There are more people under the age of 24 in China than there are people in North America, Australia and Russia combined.

There is more potential for you, the young people of the youngest great power, to reshape the order of things than for most generations that have ever lived.

In British Universities at the moment, there are not only more students from China than from any other country, there is a movement to tackle climate change reaching out to you from there to here.

Some people say that China’s moment is coming. The truth is, China’s moment is now, and nowhere is that more true than on climate change: none of us can say in the future that we weren’t warned about the scale of the problem or that we didn’t have the opportunity to tackle it.

We know what the science is telling us. We know the urgency of the problem. We have many of the technologies we need.

The test for us is whether we have the political and popular will to make it happen and protect the world from dangerous climate change.

In the years ahead, we will look around and see either our success or failure at this task.

Young people will enjoy the benefits of that success the most or will live longest with its failure.

I hope we can work together – Britain and China, young people in Britain in China – to show something important: that we have secured our legacy as the first generations to understand and prevent climate change – not the last that didn’t.

I hope we choose to work together and together, we can choose to protect the planet for future generations.