Pressure mounts on UK to ‘work with Europe’ and ratify Paris deal

The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has revealed that it will seek to ratifying the Paris Agreement "as soon as possible", after both the Liberal Democrats and Labour urged the Government to ratify the deal..

Saturday’s (3 September) news that both the US and China – together responsible for around 40% of the world’s carbon emissions – had officially ratified the deal was heralded as “the moment we decided to save our planet”. However, the UK has been pre-occupied with the Brexit fall-out and has dedicated little time to climate action.

But as Government parties and green groups call on the UK to accelerate the ratification process, a BEIS spokesperson has reiterated the Government’s commitment to tackling climate change and ratifying the deal.

“Climate change remains one of the most serious long-term risks to our economic and national security and one of the most serious threats facing our world,” a spokesperson from the Government said. “The UK’s commitment to tackling it, internationally and domestically, is as strong as ever. We are committed to ratifying the Paris Agreement as soon as possible.”

As climate policy strives to find footholds in the newly formed BEIS department, the Liberal Democrats have called on the UK to ratify the Paris Agreement “as swiftly as possible”.

“Now that America and even China have said they will ratify the Paris Agreement, Britain must move as swiftly as possible to sign,” the Liberal Democrats spokesperson of energy and climate change Lynne Featherstone said. “This is a hugely important example of where Britain should be working with our European partners to set an example for the rest of the world.”

In order for the Paris Agreement to come into force, the deal needs to be officially ratified by at least 55 countries, representing 55% of global carbon emissions. Before China and the US confirmed their long-awaited ratification, 180 nations had signed the Agreement, but just 24 nations – accounting for just over 1% of global emissions – had actually ratified it.

Prior to Saturday’s announcement, the lack of movement to ratify the deal on a global level was also apparent at a national level. While the UK negotiated the deal as part of the European Union (EU), it can still ratify it ahead of the Bloc but has shown little willingness to do so.

The lack of movement across the UK and across Europe – where France is the only major nation to have ratified – has seen Labour urge the UK Government to ratify the Paris Agreement, as a means to reassure investors and “re-establish common ground on [a] vital issue”.

In a letter, sent on Sunday (4 September) to energy secretary Greg Clark, Labour’s shadow climate change minister Barry Gardiner wrote: “Coming after the US and China have jointly ratified the global climate deal, it is time for the UK to regain the bipartisan political leadership that saw Britain adopt the historic Climate Change Act back in 2008.

“The government have currently failed to identify any parliamentary time for the ratification of the Paris Climate Agreement. By accepting my offer, the government could bring forward our domestic ratification and elevate MPs’ discussion of the Paris deal from an obscure committee corridor at some unspecified future date, to the first business of the new session on the floor of the House of Commons. 

“We need to re-establish common ground on this vital issue. I am holding out an olive branch to the government to that effect. Their acceptance would be a welcome acknowledgement that climate change is not just one of the most important challenges we face but is one where all politicians must be seen to be working together.”


Brexit means Brexit

The UK’s commitment to climate change has been questioned in the aftermath to the abolishment of DECC, while the UK’s ability to meet climate targets has also been blurred by its impending departure from the EU.

According to the Aldersgate Group’s executive director Nick Molho, a swift ratification would enable the UK to remain as a “competitive and relevant player on the global stage” – one of the main voting factors for those who opted to ‘vote leave’.

“An important argument put forward during the EU referendum campaign was that Brexit would allow the UK to look beyond the EU and be a competitive and relevant player on the global stage,” Molho said. “The ratification of the Paris climate deal by both China and the US, the world’s two biggest emitters, makes it clear that an ambitious low carbon policy should be part of the UK’s strategy to remain a strong player on the global stage.

“This requires of course a rapid ratification of the Paris deal. But it also requires an ambitious emissions reduction plan and low carbon industrial strategy, that will set out how the UK will attract increasing private sector investment in the efficient and low carbon infrastructure we need and how it will strategically grow its low carbon industries.”

Also commenting on the ratification process, Friends of the Earth climate campaigner Asad Rehman said: “The UK Government must follow the lead of China and the US and speedily ratify the Paris climate deal. This agreement is a crucial first step towards building a low carbon future.

“But if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change, the international community must make faster and deeper cuts than their Paris commitments – and end our reliance on climate-wrecking fossil fuels. This must include ending public subsidies for fossil fuel firms, pulling the plug on fracking and investing in energy efficiency and renewable power.”

The past few months have seen a host of UN heavyweights, including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres and COP21 President Ségolène Royal call on countries to bring the Paris Agreement past the “double threshold” of 55 countries representing 55% of emissions by the end of 2016.

Matt Mace

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