The guys who matter when it comes to climate change

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One of the major players pushing the agenda forward on climate change these days is Hilary Benn, Labour MP and environment minister for Gordon Brown's government. In a session for a few of us here in the UK mission's offices, Benn gave this succinct take on Monday's meetings:

Nobody is really arguing about the science. Everybody acknowledges the cost of doing something is a lot less than the cost of doing nothing. Everybody acknowledges that each of us has a part to play. The question is, how do you define that? The commitments that everyone has made to date aren't enough to deal with the scale of the problem, and time is running out. So, in terms of framing where we are, there's actually a lot of agreement.

Benn, and everyone else I talked to, stressed the importance of the December meeting in Bali. "We can't have another gathering where people say, 'Hmmm, yeah, hmmm, I'll think about it.' We've got to get going." Anything less than binding emissions reductions targets would widely be considered a failure, since only binding targets will make a carbon market viable. And it's the holy grail of a working carbon market and the associated prospect that developing countries can sell carbon credits to developed countries that will make a global regime politically workable as well.

I asked Benn what I've been asking a few other people here as well: "How do you get the issue of climate change to the point where a congressman in Ohio needs to worry about losing his seat over it?" Because unless and until the U.S. Congress gets on board, you can forget about meaningful progress on this issue.

Benn stared at me for a second, and then responded:

This is not just an environmental problem. It's an economic, it's a political, it's a migration problem. What are we going to do as a world, I would say, when people start fighting not over politics, but water? What are we going to do when refugees turn up on the shores of your country fleeing not political persecution, but environmental catastrophe? Economically, what are you going to do when the markets that maybe your constituents earn their living making goods to sell into are no longer there because they're too busy swimming for their lives because sea levels have risen? In other words, whichever way you look at it—because, the evidence is clear, in the end it's going to have impacts on all of us in lots of different ways. Now, that makes for a very strong moral and a practical case for doing something about it. And again, it's going to affect all of us wherever we happen to live.


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