Margaret Beckett – 2006 Speech in Berlin


Below is the text of a speech made by the then Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, on the 23rd October 2006 at the British Embassy in Berlin.

Good morning and welcome to the British Embassy. It is a pleasure to be here in Germany and to have the chance to speak to such a gathering of foreign policy practitioners.

I chose Berlin to make a strategic speech on foreign policy after a few months in this post for two reasons.

The first reason is that I want to talk today about the changing face of foreign policy: and there could be no more potent symbol of that than this city itself.

When the walls came tumbling down that November evening seventeen years ago, the world changed. And those whose job it was to comment, understand and shape that world had to change too.

The old skills of cold war analysis – understanding foreign policy in a bipolar world – were still valued and necessary. But as the long-standing power blocks fractured and reformed, new skills, new knowledge had to be added.

And in the time since the collapse of those political barriers we have also seen an erosion of the barriers of distance and of time: a technological revolution – quieter and less visible perhaps– but no less startling and no less fundamental.

Ten years ago, I had never sent an email. I suspect that I am not alone in that. The internet was not a daily part of our lives. Over in Britain we had four television channels – and two of those shut down for the night.

Today the way we live our lives has changed beyond all recognition. No serious commentator now can hope to make sense of the world if he or she does not grasp how that world has been transformed by rolling news coverage and the instant sharing and transfer of information across borders.

Take Islamist terrorism. It is the internet which is such a vital tool not only for planning and financing attacks but for radicalisation and recruitment. And it is from 24-hour news channels that the terrorists draw much of their power to shock and to intimidate.

That same technology not only flashed images of the tsunami around the world but also enabled huge amounts of money to be raised in record time.

So foreign policy has never been a static profession: it has always meant being part of an evolving process in which we seek to deepen and broaden our understanding of a changing world.

Today, nowhere is that change more significant and relevant to what we do than the threat of massive and dangerous disruption to our global climate

The basic science of climate change is no longer in dispute.

But what we have been hearing over the past weeks and months is that the scale and urgency of the challenge we face is worse than we had feared.

Last month, the British Antarctic Survey and the US National Snow and Ice Data Center both reported that polar ice was breaking up faster than glaciologists had thought possible.

And NASA scientists warned that another decade without a reduction in emissions and it will probably be impossible to avoid catastrophic effects of climate change.

Earlier this month we saw the UK’s foremost authority on climate impacts, the Met Office Hadley Centre, present new and worrying data on the likely extent of climate-induced desertification and extreme drought conditions.

It is now clear that tackling climate change is an imperative not a choice, a problem for today not tomorrow.

When I became Foreign Secretary, I made responding to this threat – I call it achieving climate security – a new strategic international priority for the United Kingdom.

I am in no doubt – and the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was in no doubt when he offered me the job – that today being a credible foreign minister means being serious about climate security.

Because the question for foreign policy is not just about dealing with each crisis as it hits us. Our obligation to our citizens is to put in place the conditions for security and prosperity in a crowded and interdependent world.

An unstable climate will make it much harder for us to deliver on that obligation.

This is why.

The foreign policy community has long understood that the stability of nations is to no small degree predicated on the security of individuals.

When people are exposed to the stresses caused by overpopulation, resource scarcity, environmental degradation, as they feel the security upon which they and their families depend progressively slipping away, so we see the slide down the spectrum from stability to instability.

What should concern us here in the foreign policy community is that an unstable climate will place huge additional strain on these tensions which we spend our time trying to resolve. They are already at breaking point and climate change has the potential to stretch them far beyond it.

Take food security – the ability of people to have enough to eat. In simple terms climate change will bring more frequent and more prolonged famines. Studies suggest that temperature rises of just 2-3 degrees will see crop yields in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia fall by as much as 30 to 40 per cent. It’s a similar story in China.

Access to fresh water – water security – is already a problem across the globe. Climate change will make it worse. One billion people in the South Asian sub-continent are likely to be suffer from a reduction in Himalayan melt-water and changes to the monsoon. The Middle East and Central Asia will both see significantly less rain.

And then there is energy security – vital not just for keeping the economies of the developed world running but also – crucially – for giving the developing world the means to lift itself out of poverty. Climate change threatens this too. An increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events will threaten port and drilling facilities across the world.

And it’s not just storms that we need to worry about. Melting permafrost will damage energy infrastructure – pipelines – in Russia. Melting glaciers in the Himalaya threaten India’s plans to increase hydro-electric capacity. Plus there is the danger of increased instability in key producing regions like the Middle East.

No wonder that last week Kofi Annan said, and I quote: “Action on climate change is particularly urgent, given its profound implications for virtually every aspect of human well-being, from jobs and health to growth and security”.

We in Europe should be in no doubt that how the world responds to climate change matters as much to us as to anyone.

Look at those things that are highest on the European agenda – strong borders, poverty reduction, the risks of conflict and international terrorism, energy security, jobs and growth. Get our response right to climate change and our ability to deal with all of these is enhanced. Get it wrong and our efforts across the board will be undermined.

Take immigration. If people find their homes permanently flooded they will have to up sticks and move. Simple as that. One study suggests that a sea-level rise of just 50 centimetres – half the most optimistic estimates – will displace two million people from the Nile Delta. A one metre rise will displace 25 million in Bangladesh. Environmental degradation is already driving economic migration out of sub-Saharan Africa and onto Europe’s shores.

By tackling climate change we can lessen the push factors driving immigration. If we don’t tackle it, we have to brace ourselves for populations shifts on a scale we have never seen before.

Or take conflict. Wars fought over limited resources – land, fresh water, fuel – are as old as history itself. By drastically diminishing those resources in some of the most volatile parts of the world, climate change creates a new and potentially catastrophic dynamic.

The Middle East is a case in point. Five per cent of the world’s population already has to share only one per cent of the world’s water. Climate change will mean there is even less water to go round. Current climate models suggest that – globally – Saudi, Iran and Iraq will see the biggest reductions in rainfall. Egypt – a pivotal country for regional stability – will suffer a double blow. Drastic loss of Nile flow from the South and rising sea-levels in the North destroying its agricultural heartland across the delta.

The same pattern emerges elsewhere.

South Asia. Migration into the Indian state of Assam from Bangladesh is already causing tension. Climate change will make this worse.

Central Asia. Nations increasingly at odds over water rights.

The added stresses of climate change increase the risk of fragile states dropping over the precipice into civil war and chaos. And it edges those countries that are not currently at risk into the danger zone.

In short, a failing climate means more failed states.

And that has implications for everything we want to achieve from conflict prevention and resolution to counter-terrorism.

By tackling climate change we can help address the underlying securities that feed and exacerbate conflicts and instability. By ignoring it we resign ourselves to the same crises flaring up again and again. And new ones emerging.

So climate change is not an alternative security agenda. It is a broadening and deepening of our understanding as to how we best tackle that existing agenda.

And whether and how we respond to climate change potentially has an even broader read across to global political stability. Levels of trust between North and South are already at a low ebb, not least because of the lack of progress on the Doha Development Round.

These gaps will only widen if and when the impacts of climate change start to take hold. Because it is the developed world which has had historically high levels of greenhouse gas emissions but it is the developing world – those least able to cope – which will be hit first and hit hardest.

So here too the choice is clear. Work together on a shared challenge that bridges traditional divides and engenders new trust. Or risk a further polarisation of the international community.

But what do I mean when I say that we must tackle climate change?

One thing is clear. We will have to face the shared dilemma at the heart of the debate on climate change.

We all have an interest in continuing economic growth. We all want to see the developing world lift itself out of poverty. But at the moment that growth and development is being driven by the burning of the fossil fuels which cause climate change.

In other words, the very process which is making people’s lives better across the world today is destroying their future.

But the choice between economic growth and a stable climate is a false one.

We have to have both. And we can have both.

Later this month we will see the most detailed and comprehensive study ever undertaken into the economics of climate change. In it, the UK’s Chief Economist and former Chief Economist at the World Bank, Nick Stern, will show that climate change will have a potentially devastating effect on the economies of developed and developing countries.

But that same study will also show that moving to a low-carbon global economy does not mean sacrificing economic growth or condemning people to poverty.

Indeed if we take this road, it is not only affordable: it offers huge opportunities for us all.

For developing countries, an opportunity to be in on the ground floor of a reconfiguration of the global economy. It means that they can leap-frog old technologies and produce new fuels and advanced technologies for others. It means better health through lower pollution. And it will provide them with the clean, affordable energy they need to keep growing.

For us here in Europe, it is key to hitting another two of those priorities which I listed a moment ago.

It reinforces our energy security: addressing fuel poverty and reducing our reliance on imported hydrocarbons. In turn that opens the door to more stable strategic partnerships with key energy suppliers around the world. And it means that we can forge more constructive relations with other major economies in our dealings with some third-party countries: encouraging China to take a deeper and longer-term interest in improving governance in Africa is just one example.

It also reconnects the governments of Europe to their citizens. Not only by taking decisive action on an issue which – as every opinion poll shows – they care deeply about. But also by providing the jobs and growth which we have promised and which we have put at the heart of the European agenda.

Here in Germany it is estimated that the renewable energy sector has already created 170 000 jobs and 16 billion Euros in turnover. Industries offering climate protection technologies are growing faster, exporting more and creating more jobs than the broader market.

It’s the same story in my country. Last week, the British oil company, BP published a study showing that responding to climate change is a £30 billion business opportunity for British companies over the next decade.

So taking action on climate change is not just an imperative. It is an opportunity.

And yet, in fact, we are dangerously behind the curve. We are on a direct path to climate chaos.

In the past I have spoken of the need for a globalisation of responsibility. The need to build a politics of interdependence in which we define ourselves by what we hold in common, not by what divides us.

But when it comes to our inaction on climate change our generation is in danger of global irresponsibility on a massive and irreversible scale.

I make no bones about the fact that the challenge we face is a big one.

The International Energy Agency estimates that US$20 trillion will be spent in the energy sector between now and 2030. We must use that money to transform the very foundations of how we live: how we generate and consume power, how we move around, and how we use land.

Most of the US$20 trillion will be from the private sector. But a stable climate is a global public good: and that makes it a responsibility of governments to put in place the conditions that will achieve it.

Our task is nothing less than to build the biggest public-private partnership ever conceived. We must construct the mutually reinforcing frameworks of incentives and penalties, of opportunities and burdens equitably shared, that will drive private capital towards low carbon solutions. And these frameworks will need to be built simultaneously at every level – national, regional and global.

That needs the widest possible political coalition. And that is what makes it our problem too. This is not just an environmental problem. It is a defence problem. It is a problem for those who deal with economics and development, conflict prevention, agriculture, finance, housing, transport, innovation, trade and health.

Building that coalition is a challenge for the whole world: from consumers to the heads of government.

But I am making this speech here today because I want to lay down that challenge to three groups in particular.

First, it is a challenge to the foreign policy community.

Climate change is a serious threat to international security. So achieving climate security must be at the core of foreign policy.

All of us here have to pick up the pace.

I went to the G8+5 meeting in Monterrey earlier this month. It was a good meeting. But most of the ministers there were environmental ministers. It is our responsibility to make sure that this is something that heads of state, energy ministers, foreign ministers, and defence ministers are discussing regularly and at the highest level.

At every level – UN, G8 or EU – one of our top-line objectives must be to make real, concrete progress on climate change.

We need the political resources of foreign policy to create a shared vision for the future. We need to use the expertise of those in this room – and beyond – to build coalitions, to set agendas and to make multilateral institutions work.

It is foreign policy practitioners who can help impress upon a national and domestic consciousness the international imperative of climate change.

Second, it is a challenge for the European Union.

We are the world’s biggest single market.

We have a budget – more than 120 billion Euros a year – that gives us the ability to drive progress in the areas that will define the global response to climate change: research and development, advanced technologies, renewable energy, energy efficiency.

In short, we have the intellectual capacity, the technological capability and the resources not just to steer the global debate on climate change but also to drive global action.

That is what the European Union is for. That is what makes it relevant to its people. Europe has already achieved so much on the environment: more than any country could ever have done on its own.

Now we must make climate security one of Europe’s greatest priorities.

That is why I have put Europe at the heart of my strategy on climate change.

It is why at Lahti European Leaders clearly stated that the EU had to be strong leaders in tackling climate change.

Others have responsibilities too – of course. But we should not use that as an excuse to lower our own ambitions. So for example:

Strengthening the Emissions Trading Scheme by putting charges on airlines as early as 2008 and progressively tightening caps beyond 2012.

Forging deeper and broader energy partnerships with China, India and others to set the technology standards for a global low carbon economy

Agreeing to invest more on renewables

Putting the Commission proposals on energy efficiency into action

Moving as soon as possible to zero emissions fossil fuel plants within the EU.

Accelerating the demonstration and deployment of carbon capture and storage.

And the energy security papers that the UK and other European countries are now preparing will be key and must reflect the full extent of our ambition.

Third it is a challenge to Germany. And that is the second reason why I chose Berlin, now to make this speech.

It is why David Milliband, the Environment Secretary was here a few days ago. And why the theme of the recent State Visit was climate change.

Of all the countries in the world it is Germany which at this moment matters most.

What you do right here, right now during your dual presidencies in the next six and twelve months is pivotal.

There is no point in us sitting down to discuss what we are going to do five or ten years down the line. It will already be too late.

It will be up to you whether Europe delivers on the agenda I have just outlined.

It will be up to you whether the G8 can galvanise broader global action.

We will support you.

We need a more specific, better co-ordinated and large scale project to accelerate development and introduction of clean coal technology – before China builds a new generation of power plants.

We are ready to work with you on a concrete proposal to come out of your twin presidencies.

I know that you are keen to do something specific on degradation of the rainforests. We stand ready to be a partner.

So we will support you. But you must lead.

It is you here in Germany that have the economic clout and the diplomatic and moral authority to make a significant difference now.

Ladies and Gentlemen.

One hundred and fifty years ago Bismarck famously remarked: “The great questions of the day will not be settled by means of speeches and majority decisions but by iron and blood.”

Today I contend that the exact opposite is true.

The greatest security threat we face as a global community won’t be met by guns and tanks. It will be solved by investment in the emerging techniques of soft power – building avenues of trust and opportunity that will lead to a low-carbon economy.

There is no backstop: politics and diplomacy have to work.

Bismarck was famous for another thing too. He was the first European statesman to recognise that if you wanted to sustain economic growth, you had to invest in the conditions that underpinned that growth.

Bismarck’s concern was for social conditions at the national level: it led him to lay the foundations of the welfare state system that underpins modern Europe.

Today our concern is wider. The threat we face is to the most basic conditions underpinning our global society.

We too must invest in our future. Or risk losing it.

The baton has passed to Germany. Please don’t drop it.