Secretary of State Edward Davey’s speech to the AVOID symposium at the Royal Society.

The responsibility of avoiding dangerous climate change falls on us all, as we were reminded by Secretary of State, Edward Davey, this week during his speech to the AVOID symposium at the Royal Society.


AVOID is a research programme that provides key advice to the UK Government on avoiding dangerous climate change brought on by greenhouse gas emissions.The unique multi-disciplinary research programme, which has been running for the last four years, includes the Met Office, the Walker Institute, the Tyndall Centre and the Grantham Institute among others.There is now agreement among G-20 nations that a rise in global average temperature of 2 °C above pre-industrial levels could be dangerous. Warming above this will lead to unacceptable levels of climate impacts and is more likely to trigger accelerated or irreversible environmental change.

AVOID has shown that limiting global warming to 2 °C is possible but challenging. Early global action increases our chances of remaining below this level.

Mr Davey acknowledged that while the ‘political message’ may fall on deaf ears, few of us could fail to dispute the scientific facts.

“It is fair to say that trust in politicians is not something the public has in abundance,” he admitted. “That is why, when it comes to climate change, it is so important that all the rigours of the scientific method are applied.

“When the scientists tell us that the evidence proves that smoking is addictive and can cause a whole host of deadly medical conditions, we believe them.

“When scientists tell us that prolonged exposure to the sun’s ultra-violet rays can lead to cancer, we believe them, because their views are based on strong evidence.

“So if we have this trust in scientific evidence, why would we make an exception when it comes to the science of climate change?” he asked.

We may have more faith in our scientists than our politicians, but some businesses are still reluctant to act of the evidence of climate change, said Mr Davies.

“Too often, we are told that those who go low-carbon first will sacrifice their competitiveness. But as the Prime Minister set out last week, reaffirming our shared commitment to being the greenest government ever: ‘We are in a global race and the countries that succeed in that race, the economies that will prosper, are those that are the greenest and the most energy efficient’.”

The real danger faced by those who fail to react, is being outpaced by those investing in clean, low-carbon operations, he said:

“This is a boom market of £3.3 trillion, growing at 3.7% a year, with investment in renewables outpacing that in fossil fuels.”


“For our businesses this means opportunities, for our governments tax revenues, for our people jobs, for our societies insulation from the volatility of fossil fuel prices.

“So this drive for low-carbon energy is a real engine of growth for hard-pressed economies around the world.

“The UK is not alone – we are not somehow risking our competitive edge because others aren’t doing their bit.

“Over the next year, I will be part of a concerted push by like-minded countries at EU level to commit to a 30% reduction target in 2020 and to agree a further strong emissions reductions target for 2030.

“And looking wider than Europe, I recently attended the GLOBE International legislators summit. The GLOBE study catalogues the action already being taken in over 30 countries. So those who advocate the view that ‘no one else is doing anything, so why should we’ have not opened their eyes to the real world.

“The stark fact is this – climate change is happening. We can’t reverse it, but we can limit it. “

Our focus must now be on that damage limitation – preventing us passing a potentially catastrophic tipping point, he claimed.

“AVOID highlights the importance of keeping temperature increases below 2C. To do so global emissions need to be reduced urgently. This points to the importance of a comprehensive global deal in 2015.

“It may be as I mentioned earlier that the art of politics is not greatly revered. But we will need every piece of political artistry we can bring to bear to make sure that we translate this scientific understanding into concrete and effective action to keep climate change within manageable levels.

“Action based on the science, the risks and the impacts. Action to deliver a low carbon way of life.

“The real prize is to design in long-term emissions reduction through systemic change.

“Designing out carbon.”


“I am given hope, by the actions taking place all around the world, that we can agree a global, binding treaty, because it will be the next obvious, natural step to consolidate the actions we’re already taking.

“And I am given hope by our human ingenuity – to find a way through problems and develop solutions.

“And this brings me back to the politics and the science. We now have three critical years leading to the end of 2015 to get the international politics aligned.

“We can’t leave this to the politicians to save the planet. This has to be a whole of society effort. Conceiving solutions, engineering new efficiencies, bringing new energy sources to the market.

“We share a positive vision of a green, clean energy and transport – and a better, healthier way of life. And the progress of science will help us get there.”

We, as individuals, can all contribute to making us winners in the green global race, he claimed.

“You know, when I am confronted by some of the most dogmatic and blinkered people who deny that climate change is happening, I am reminded of the sentiment of the famous USA Today cartoon – ‘If we really are wrong about climate change, we will have created a better world for nothing’.

“In reality, those who deny climate change and demand a halt to emissions reduction and mitigation work, want us to take a huge gamble with the future of every human being on the planet, every future human being, our children and grand children, and every other living species.

“We will not take that risk.”

(This is a précis of the original drafted speech delivered to AVOID on 12th February 2013. For the full version visit :