Climate action provides ‘thread of certainty’ for post-Brexit Britain, says Christiana Figueres

The UN's soon-to-depart climate chief has quashed claims that the UK's impending departure from the European Union (EU) could derail the Paris Agreement, instead claiming that a concerted effort to tackle climate change could be the "thread of continuity" that the UK needs during this "uncertain and volatile" period.

Speaking at the Business and Climate Summit at London’s Guildhall today (28 June) the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres noted that climate change has created systemic disruption at such a global scale that any future effects caused by last week’s shock victory for the Leave Campaign wouldn’t create any “dramatic change” in Britain or beyond.

“I don’t see how Brexit is going to dramatically change the global situation, certainly because of what is happening in the world when fighting climate change, and even what is happening in this region,” Figueres said. “What is going on globally is actually much bigger than what we’re seeing here.

“Should the UK decide to trigger Article 50 [the formal legal process to leave the EU], it would perhaps mean that the EU would have to look at the target it has put into the INDC [intended nationally determined contribution] and maybe make some adjustments to that.

“It might mean that the EU will have to look a recalibration, but let’s not assume that this is the case.”

‘Uncertainty and volatility’

While there have been numerous warnings and speculation about how Brexit will impact national environmental policies, and indeed the Paris Agreement itself, Figueres today urged businesses to look at a potential departure from the EU as a means to strengthen national efforts to tackle climate change.

The UN climate chief, who will step down from her post in July, noted that the EU Referendum was never really tailored to account for global climate change, and that – despite a lack of environmental considerations in the build-up to the vote – the decision to leave wouldn’t impact the UK’s position as a “climate leader” on an international stage.

“There may have to be some adjustments. It is absolutely clear that, should Article 50 be triggered, the UK will have to figure out trade relationships and look at adjustments to domestic regulations. This means that there is going to be uncertainty, transition and volatility for at least two years.

“We need to remember that the Brexit vote was not about climate change, it was not about the UK’s modernisation of industries and it wasn’t a vote on innovation – which is fundamentally the opportunity that we have by acting on climate change.

“Actually, continuing and being consistent with the UK/EU policy steps on climate change could be the thread of continuity that takes the UK through the next two years. There’s no reason to make a huge jump to distress or upset the apple cart on this, it could be one of the interesting tracks of stability and continuity that society needs.”

Keep calm and…

As the UK continues to battle with post-Brexit uncertainty, Figueres again reiterated the need for a calm and collaborative approach to both the prospect of leaving the EU and the ongoing battle against climate change.

“Over the next two years, I suggest that the UK stays calm and transforms on, because the UK and the EU has had a very important leadership role and there’s no reason to change that whatsoever. The UK needs to take advantage of the innovation opportunities that will arise on the world stage over the next two years.

The views of Figueres were echoed by the Carbon Disclosure Project’s (CDP) chief executive Paul Simpson, who argued that if Britain’s business sector continues to drive the 2C movement, then the UK Government would continue to raise climate ambitions.

“Of course, it’s a time of uncertainty,” said Simpson. “But if you look at it from a cross-party consensus on climate change in the UK, the movement will be will continue to exist. We have the Climate Change Act, which is written into law and cannot be abandoned, and we’ve got carbon budgets coming up.

“However, as the new Government unfolds, we expect that the UK will remain a leader on climate change and will be pushed by the Paris Agreement. Businesses can provide the solutions as long as governments increase their ambitions.”

Earlier today, Figueres and Simpson both spoke at the launch of the new Business End of Climate Change report – compiled by We Mean Business, the New Climate Institute and CDP – which puts a figure for the first time on the level of emissions cuts that could be achieved by businesses worldwide through collective action.

Matt Mace

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