Copenhagen must be a turning point. Our children won’t forgive us if we fail

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And today, together with Norway and Australia, the UK is taking a further step to a Copenhagen agreement: publishing a framework for the long-term transfer of resources to meet the mitigation and adaptation needs of developing countries.

Let no one be in any doubt about the overwhelming scientific evidence that underpins the Copenhagen conference. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change brings together over 4,000 scientists from every corner of the world. Their recent work has sharpened, not diminished, the huge and diverse body of evidence of human-made global warming. Its landmark importance cannot be wished away by the theft of a few emails from one university research centre. On the contrary, the pernicious anti-scientific backlash that the emails have unleashed has exposed just what is at stake.

The purpose of the climate change deniers’ campaign is clear, and the timing no coincidence. It is designed to destabilise and undermine the efforts of the countries gathering in Copenhagen today.

And the reason is that – if we can summon the political will to secure the ambitious agreement we need – Copenhagen is poised to achieve a profound historical transformation: reversing the road we have travelled for 200 years.

Over that time we have based our prosperity on burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests. Now we need to create wealth and quality of life, not by putting carbon into the atmosphere but by taking it out. We need to build, in short, a low carbon economy. And not just at home: our aim must be to do this in every major economy of the world.

This will involve change: a shift from the energy dictatorship of oil and traditional fossil fuels to the efficiency, self-reliance and security of low carbon energy systems, which will be the engine of growth and job creation over the coming decade.

Inevitably, as with every great project of social and economic progress in the global and public interest, there will be vested interests who seek to oppose it. And so I will take on with evidence, argument and moral passion all the anti-science and anti-change environmental Luddites who seek to stand in the way of progress.

As we embark on these two weeks of negotiations, the British government is absolutely clear about what we must achieve. Our aim is a comprehensive and global agreement that is then converted to an internationally legally binding treaty in no more than six months. The agreement must put the world on a path to no more than two degrees of global warming. That means at least halving global emissions by 2050. And at the same time the deal must provide help to the poorest and most vulnerable countries to adapt to those climatic changes that are now inevitable – and that many are already experiencing.

While we have made huge progress over recent weeks, there is still movement required. First, all countries need to reach for high level ambition in their commitments to reduce their emissions and their emissions growth. Many countries have put forward offers that are dependent on the ambition of others. The European Union, notably, has committed to reducing our emissions by 30% if the overall deal is strong enough. Others, such as Australia and Japan, have made similar offers. So in Copenhagen we need to ensure that all countries move to the top of the range of their ambition, thereby enabling others to do so in a process of mutual reinforcement.

Second, we need a financing agreement that enables developing countries to tackle climate change. Money is needed for both adaptation to climate change and for its mitigation – that is, for investment in low carbon energy and energy efficiency, for green technology co-operation and – perhaps most important of all – to enable a radical reduction in deforestation in the rainforest countries.

That is why at the Commonwealth meeting last weekend I proposed, and the Commonwealth agreed, a Copenhagen Launch Fund to provide financial assistance to developing countries – not simply in 2013 but now, starting next year and building to $10bn annually by 2012. I am delighted that President Obama is not only going to Copenhagen to help conclude the deal, but leading the way on this. Along with President Sarkozy, Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Rudd he has committed his country to paying its fair share. This week I will ask the whole of the EU to do so as well.

And as our joint statement says, at Copenhagen we also need to address the need for financing in the longer term, to support adaptation and mitigation in developing countries. The world needs to be sure that the agreement will secure the required level of global emissions reductions. But that means developing countries must to be able to plan their investments with confidence. So we need to consider a system of “payment for results”, in which low carbon and sustainable forest mitigation plans are financed over the long term for the emissions reductions they achieve.

Third, we need to design a “transparency mechanism” by which all countries can see clearly what is happening, not only in their own countries but in others. In a great global project of mutual ambition, we all need to be confident in one another.

When I first said leaders should go to Copenhagen, I wanted to ensure that there was as little room for failure as possible. More than 100 leaders are now attending. If by the end of next week we have not got an ambitious agreement, it will be an indictment of our generation that our children will not forgive. I will be doing everything in my power to ensure we succeed.

Sometimes history comes to turning points. For all our sakes, the turning point of 2009 must be real.

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