British Environment Secretary Visits U.S.

David Miliband, secretary of state for the environment in the United Kingdom, has been in the United States this past week. He talks with John Ydstie about the results of this week's G-8 summit, about his trip to the U.S. and about his international vision to combat global warming.

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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie.

Coming up: day care at the racetrack. But, first, while G-8 leaders were meeting this week in Germany to discuss global warming and other issues, Britain's environment minister, David Miliband, was visiting the United States. Secretary Miliband officially is the U.K.'s secretary of state for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, came to meet with members of Congress, the U.N. and evangelicals about environmental policy and to encourage the U.S. to think green.

Secretary Miliband has taken a break from his trip to join us from New York. Welcome to our program.

Secretary DAVID MILIBAND (Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, United Kingdom): Well, thank you very much. I'm delighted to be with you.

YDSTIE: So, the leaders of the Group of Eight nations agreed they would work to cut greenhouse gas emissions, but the European Union could not convince the U.S. and Russia to commit to cut emissions by half by the year 2050. Instead the U.S. agreed only to seriously consider that goal. From your point of view as Britain's environment secretary, is this an adequate outcome?

Secretary MILIBAND: Well, I think that the G-8 summit of leaders of the industrialized countries have taken some important steps forward. But we've also got to recognize that the significant way to go before we get the global deal that is so important if we are to safeguard our future.

All the signs is now clear that we're in quite a dangerous place now with the amount of carbon dioxide and other pollution in the atmosphere. And business as usual carries with it really major threats of dangerous, very dangerous change by mid-century. So I would say, some steps forward, but we've still got to go further.

YDSTIE: President Bush argues that unless rapidly growing countries like China and India are part of any agreement, nothing substantial is going to happen. Is the president right?

Secretary MILIBAND: The evidence is pretty clear that countries like China or India are raising their levels of emission is quite fast, all, of course, on a per capita basis. They are much lower level of emissions than we do. I was in India in January and it's certainly true that as a middle class of 300, 350 million people.

Bleakly in India, though, 350 million people who are living on less than a couple of dollars a day. We all need to take on responsibilities that are appropriate to our stage of development. I think that is possible. And we, along with other European Union countries, think that the right first step is for the advanced industrialized countries to take a lead.

And, I think it's been interesting in my three days in the United States to meet with people in Congress, but also, I've just come from a meeting with Governor Spitzer of New York. There's clearly a movement at state and city level to reap the economic advantage that can come from being early movers in the shift towards low pollution ways of powering our economies.

And in the U.K. for the last 10 years, our economy's grown by about 28 percent and our greenhouse gas emissions are down by eight percent. So we've broken the link between economic growth and pollution growth. You don't need to pollute the planet to grow your economy. And we've got to insure that message is heard, and not just in the industrialized world but also in the developing world.

YDSTIE: Let's talk more about your trip this week. You were on Capitol Hill here in Washington. You were at the U.N. What specifically were you hoping to achieve in both locations?

Secretary MILIBAND: Because this is a global problem, no one country can solve it. But, frankly, we're never going to get the gross with any global problem like climate change without the wholehearted engagement of the United States. And the history of the 20th century shows that when America and its people do turn their mind to great causes, it can have fantastic effects. So that's been the running theme.

As I've gone around meeting with people from politics and business and representatives of the faith communities here in New York City, I've tried to build alliances. I've just agreed with Governor Spitzer of New York that we'll work with him and the other regional greenhouse gas initiative - states, seven states in the northeast to form a sort of partnership that Prime Minister Blair and Governor Schwarzenegger agreed in California last year.

YDSTIE: As you said, your meeting with evangelical Christians while you're here, many of whom have begun approaching environmental issues with theological fervor. Why did you choose to meet with them?

Secretary MILIBAND: This battle against global warming needs a sense of moral purpose because it reflects pretty fundamental issues about our responsibilities to other people in other parts of the world, especially poorer people because by a cruel irony, it will be the poorest parts of the world that suffer the greatest from global warming that they've done least to create.

And also, pretty fundamental questions about our relationship to future generations and what we owe them in terms of the stewardship that we owe to the planet.

YDSTIE: After a week in the U.S., what's your sense of where Americans and their policymakers are at this point? Are we at that point of realization now?

Secretary MILIBAND: That's a really tough question. It, sort of, it asks me either to be - pretend to be a know-all after a few days or - and also risk beyond diplomatic. I would say that there are some parts of American business and political opinion that are leading the way in this area. And there are other parts that remain rather more skeptical and I don't quite know how close you are to a tipping point on this issue.

I had a business dinner with representatives of Wall Street, and they talked about tipping point. It's so - that's very encouraging. I look forward to the day when I arrive in the U.S., and a bit like happens in the U.K. at the moment, whether it's an insurance company or a car company or a supermarket retailer, they'll be trying to catch my attention with the green message, not just any old message. And that, well, I think the ultimate proof that there's been significant shift.

YDSTIE: British Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs David Miliband, thanks so much for taking the time to be with us today.

Secretary MILIBAND: Thanks very much indeed.

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