Copenhagen climate talks 'a political embarrassment'

The Copenhagen summit on climate change was a "political embarrassment" for the UK, a former head of the Met Office has said.

The Copenhagen summit on climate change was a "political embarrassment" for the UK, a former head of the Met Office has said.

Labour's Lord Hunt of Chesterton said that there was "unrealistic optimism" leading into last month's talks which ended in chaotic scenes as a weak accord on tackling global warming was achieved.

The UK had led the calls for the framework of a legally-binding deal to be laid out at the UN summit, but official negotiations stalled and leaders had to step in to secure an accord that was short on substance.

Lord Hunt, a retired professor of climate modelling who was chief executive of the Met Office from 1992 to 1997, accused the Government of "pretending to be optimistic" before Copenhagen.

In a debate on the outcome of the conference, he said: "I went to China in May. It was absolutely clear what was going to happen. The documents were published, the Chinese published their climate documents in English.

"These had not been read by anybody in Whitehall, not by the Met Office. It was absolutely clear what was going to happen and it happened.

"I believe this led to political embarrassment for this country and other countries. Why was no public warning given of this information, why was there not some indication that some Plan B was going to be necessary?

"I don't think that by pretending to be optimistic until the last minute that was actually good politics. I hope there will be a change of heart in the climate strategy when we go to the next stage."

Astronomer Royal Lord Rees of Ludlow said that despite the UK only being responsible for a small proportion of global carbon emissions it could play a leading role in tackling the issue.

"We have the expertise to spearhead the technologies without which there would be no transition to a low-carbon economy," he said.

"We should seize the chance to pioneer clean energy to meet the entire world's needs."

The crossbench peer added: "Even the optimists among us worry about whether renewables can take over from oil and gas before the CO2 concentration has risen to a threatening level.

"That's why carbon capture and storage is crucial. It could be widely adopted by 2030."

But he warned against falling back on "geo-engineering" such as "modifying clouds, putting aerosols in the stratosphere or even deploying sunshades in space".

The ideas had "allure" to some but could have "unintended consequences" and would also be "politically problematic", he said.

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