Environmental group challenges Government over Australia trade deal
NGO Feedback has filed an application for a judicial review of the UK's Australian free trade agreement over its inadequate assessment of the environmental impact, claiming that it undermines the UK’s commitment to tackle climate change.
The trade deal permits Australian producers to sell beef and dairy into the UK market; however, research conducted by the Institute of Environmental Science at Leiden University and New York University demonstrates that Australian cattle meat has a materially higher emissions intensity than UK meat.
Experts argue that the available statistical evidence on agricultural emissions consistently shows that the emissions intensity from Australian beef is substantially higher than that from the UK.
However, the impact assessment concluded that the data on carbon emissions associated with cattle meat was too “variable” to assess the impact of carbon leakage.
The UK-Australia trade deal was signed in December 2021 and is one of the first agreements signed as part of post-Brexit negotiations with other nations.
According to the National Food Strategy report, the carbon emissions from UK beef were 30kg Co2/kg compared to 45kg Co2e/kg from Australian beef, and forestation lost to UK meat was 42ha in 2018 compared to 7,620ha in Australia. In comparison, forestation lost to US cattle was 2,970/ha.
The NGO argues that trade deals need to be able to demonstrate commitments to combatting the climate crisis.
Feedback’s executive director Carina Millstone said: “With its flimsy environmental impact assessment of the UK-Australia trade deal, the government has blithely thrown both British farmers and the Paris Agreement under the bus in its futile bid for positive post-Brexit headlines.
“At a time of crisis in food and farming, and with global temperature highs broken daily, the government must ensure all trade deals work towards our emissions reduction targets rather than towards further catastrophic heating.”
The environmental campaign group further claims that the impact assessment has failed to quantify the carbon impact of any changes to domestic UK meat and dairy consumption because of tariff-free imports of Australian food.
According to an independent review of the National Food Strategy, commissioned by the government in 2019, a 30% reduction in meat is required by 2032 to achieve the Fifth Carbon Budget and the UK Government’s 30 by 30 nature commitment to protect at least 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030.
As per a report published by the Climate Change Committee (CCC) in 2020, a minimum of 20% reduction in meat and dairy consumption by 2030, and a minimum of 35% reduction in meat by 2050, is required to achieve net-zero by 2050.
The UK government is legally bound by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement to consider climate change, biodiversity and emissions reduction when setting trade policies.
Commenting on the trade deal, campaign alliance group Sustain’s head of public affairs Orla Delargy said: “The UK Government needs to make sure future trade deals do not come with such hefty environmental and ethical price tags attached.”
It is the latest in a line of legal challenges facing the Government on climate grounds.
Friends of the Earth, ClientEarth and Good Law Project have announced their intentions to take the UK Government to court over what they believe is an inadequate plan to tackle the climate crisis.
The Government is being taken to court for the second time over its climate strategies in less than two years, with green groups labelling the updated Net-Zero Growth Plan a “feeble and inadequate” measure to respond to the climate crisis.