It was a wide ranging discussion, covering all sorts of areas – politics and policy, economics, and, given his firm’s interests, business and investment. It was a very different approach to either Nigel Griffith’s or Richard Dixon’s – more concerned but hopeful, rather than apocalyptic.
He started from the view that what would be there after the Kyoto protocol is the Kyoto protocol: if nothing changes as a result of the Copenhagen conference in December, what was agreed at Kyoto would stand, and that any outcome from Copenhagen would only improve on Kyoto – with new negotiated targets and new signatories.
And here he moved straight into politics, because the only major country not to ratify Kyoto was the USA. A week before Obama’s inauguration as president, Cameron put great store by the incoming president and his team, believing climate change is central to his agenda. Cameron named three of Obama’s staff who he thought would have a significant effect on energy and environment al policy: Nobel laureate Steven Chu as energy secretary; John Holdren as assistant to the president for science and technology; and Carol Browner as assistant to the president for energy and climate change. He reckoned that appointing advisors such as these represented a huge change in itself – away from vested interests and gut-reactions to evidence-based policy making – and that this would send strong messages to other nations.
On the back of this, Cameron predicted that a truly global, multilateral regulatory regime on emissions would be possible – created through global cooperation, based on and assessed using scientific methods principles. Indeed he predicted unprecedented international cooperation to deal with the truly global threat of climate change arising from Copenhagen. Quoting Tom Burke, he said that a failure to deal with climate change would be catastrophic.
The mechanisms to implement some of the regulations could use the proposed solutions to current economic crisis, by including the value of carbon emissions as a metric of the effectiveness of any measures – before the money is distributed. (This was before this week’s moves to insure UK banks against losses on their loan book – the economic crisis seems to be developing too quickly to put Cameron’s ideas into practice!) He thought that the low levels of saving in the west, low trust in financial markets, and low trust in governments coupled with the need for additional for the capital could provide leverage through, for instance, national savings schemes for environmental projects and renewable energy in the same way that war bonds were used to fund military spending during World War 2.
The market for carbon, enabling cross-border trading of emissions, is also a key tool which Cameron felt could be transformative.
It was a fascinating discussion, spanning many issues in a relatively short time. Cameron asked questions as well as answered them. One of the most telling – which he posed at the start of his talk and didn’t address – stemmed, I think, from a conversation with Tom Burke: simply, it was “why are young people not angry with those who got us into this situation?” It is a very good question – and not just young people: why is climate change not the major political issue in the world today?
Perhaps the fourth meeting of the series – a debate involving all the previous speakers – may go some way to answer Cameron’s question. At least, I intend to ask it!