Profile: Baroness Valerie Amos
Critical of the negative reporting she is seeing on a daily basis, Britain’s new High Commissioner says Australia was well positioned to lead the international community on climate change but the public debate should move beyond scepticism and negativity to finding solutions.
Jonathan Pearlman in The Age (13 November 2009):
BRITAIN’S new high commissioner in Canberra, Baroness Valerie Amos, has expressed surprise that Australians are still debating whether humans cause climate change and says other nations such as her own have long since ”moved on”.
In her first public comments since arriving in Canberra three weeks ago, Baroness Amos (pictured right), a former leader of the House of Lords and Britain’s first black female cabinet member, said Australia was well positioned to lead the international community on climate change but the public debate should move beyond scepticism and negativity to finding solutions.
Her comments come days after a senior Liberal, Nick Minchin, said he and most of his party colleagues believed man-made climate change was a myth. ”I have been surprised that the science itself is being questioned,” Baroness Amos told The Age. ”These are things where there have been debates over a long period of time in other countries and where we have reached conclusions and moved on … In the UK, there is a degree of political consensus about what in broad terms needs to be done. There is a lot of debate about how we do it. You would certainly not see on a daily basis … the kind of negative reporting that you have here.”
British envoys tend to be among the most influential of the foreign diplomats in Canberra and usually have a direct line to senior political and business leaders.
When she first met Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, on her third day in the country, Baroness Amos presented him with a world map showing the potentially horrific consequences of rising temperatures, including the risk of more dangerous bushfires across Australia.
”Australia as a country has seen the impact of some of this, in terms of drought and what is happening with annual fires,” she said.
”I was a bit surprised at the negativity of some of the debate … It would be great for Australia to be out there and leading the way. Being a resource-rich country does not mean that, in putting in place measures that lead to clean coal technology and lower emissions, economically you need to fall behind.”
Relations between Britain and Australia were evolving, she said, and should focus on future common goals – such as promoting human rights – rather than dwelling on their shared past.
A decision on whether to become a republic was ”definitely an issue for Australia” and would not affect relations with Britain, she said. ”It is not an issue for Britain at all. It is an issue for Australia and Australians to decide what they want their constitutional arrangements to be.”
Baroness Amos is one of three black peers that sit in the House of Lords. She was created a life peer in 1997. She is what is referred as ‘a working peer’, and before her current appointment was the Secretary of State for International Development
Prior to her appointment as Secretary of State for International Development, Baroness Amos was appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs in June 2001 with responsibility for Africa, the Commonwealth, the Caribbean, Overseas Territories, Consular Issues and FCO Personnel.
Previously she was the Government Whip from 1998 to 2001 and a co-opted member, European Union Sub-committee F (Social Affairs, Education and Home Affairs) from 1997-98.
She was spokesperson for social security 1998-2001, international development since 1998, women’s issues 1998-2001, and foreign and commonwealth office 2001
Born in March 1954 in Guyana, Valerie Ann Amos began her career in local government, working in various London boroughs from 1981 to 1989. She was educated at Townley Grammar School for Girls before completing a degree in sociology at Warwick University in 1976, a master’s degree in cultural studies from Birmingham University in 1977 and doctoral research at University of East Anglia.
She was chief executive of the Equal Opportunities Commission from 1989 to 1994, and then director of Amos Fraser Bernard from 1995 to 1998.
She was deputy chair of the Runnymede Trust, a trustee of Institute of Public Policy Research and involved in Project Hope, an NGO which promotes healthcare.
Her charity works involved being the chair of the board of governors at Royal College of Nursing Institute from 1994 to 1998 and one of the directors of Hampstead Theatre.
From Act on Copenhagen:
The UK is one of five European Union countries to have already met their targets for reducing emissions below the levels required to be met by 2012 under the Kyoto Protocol.
The European Environment Agency said that the European Union as a whole and all Member States bar one are on track to meet their Kyoto Protocol commitments to limit and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
In a report issued on 12 November, the EEA said that the five countries would not need to rely on buying extra carbon offsets from abroad assuming that they manage to keep their emissions below their burden-sharing targets or further reduce them.
The Kyoto Protocol, established in 1997, commits a number of industrialised nations to bring down their emissions from a 1990 baseline. The 15 European countries that were EU members in 1997 jointly committed to an 8% reduction.
The graphs shows how the 15 EU members have performed relative to their targets (in percentage points) where negative numbers are emissions below target and positive numbers show emissions above target.
The COP15 Copenhagen website hailed the five countries as ‘carbon heroes. ‘Britain, France, Germany, Greece and Sweden can all claim the title of climate’s heroes,’ it said. Only Austria expects to fall short of its commitment under current conditions and will have to intensify its efforts to reduce emissions.
Jacqueline McGlade, the EEA’s Executive Director, said: ‘It is encouraging that Europe’s climate-changing emissions are expected to continue decreasing, outperforming the objectives set by the Kyoto Protocol.’
‘Such an accomplishment should encourage all countries to agree on much larger reductions of global emissions, sealing a global deal in Copenhagen this December.’
These projections have started to factor in the recent economic downturn, but even so, emissions of greenhouse gases ‘may still be overstated in the short term,’ the agency said. ‘As such, the recession could bring about further cuts in emissions.’
The EEA said that reductions between 2008 and 2012 will be achieved through a combination of existing and additional policies; the purchase by governments of credits from emission-reducing projects outside the EU; the trading of emission allowances by participants in the EU emission trading scheme (EU ETS); and forestry activities that absorb carbon from the atmosphere.