UN boss: Brexit would mean rewriting Paris Agreement on climate change

A vote for Brexit in tomorrow's UK referendum on EU membership (23 June) would mean that the COP21 agreement would have to be rewritten, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change said on Wednesday (22 June) in Brussels.

Christiana Figueres, one of the architects of the historic deal struck last December to limit warming to no more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels, said the international pact, “would require recalibration”. It is currently in the process of ratification.

“From the point of view of the Paris Agreement, the UK is part of the EU and has put in its effort as part of the EU so anything that would change that would require a recalibration,” she said at a press conference.

“In principle, it is actually, historically, we say, as humankind, we are moving towards larger and larger tents of collaboration […] rather than in the opposite way.”

The vote on whether to Leave or Remain in the EU began today, with the results expected in the early hours of Friday morning (24 June). Polls suggest the result is on a knife-edge.

Figueres was alongside Energy Union Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič and business magnate Michael Bloomberg, who is also UN special envoy for cities and climate change, to launch the Global Covenant of Mayors.

The Covenant is the merger of the EU’s Global Covenant of Mayors and the US Compact of Mayors, two initiatives driving forward climate action at city level.

Bloomberg said, “From America’s point of view, the UK staying (in) the EU is a very positive thing for the world economy and world peace. We have a special relationship with the UK that comes out of a common heritage. I think we would be much worse off if they chose to leave.

“A lot of the fears are fears that are coming out of technology hurting the labour force, not globalisation. We would be better off if the countries were closer together when it comes to solving some of those problems rather than further apart.”

The former New York mayor said that the possible loss of freedom of movement within the EU could affect the staff at his news agency Bloomberg.

He said, “My company has maybe 4,000 people in the UK, of which 1,100 or 1,200 are from the rest of Europe. It might be more difficult – who knows what the rules will be there. It’s clear it may be a little more difficult when it comes to moving back and forth.”

Patrick Klugman is the deputy mayor of Paris. He said that despite talk of rivalry between his city and London, “Paris is a city that supports Britain’s place in the EU.”

He added that Paris would stand in solidarity with other European cities mourning last week’s tragic murder of MP Jo Cox during the referendum campaign.

Brexit is unlikely to hit British collaboration in the Covenant, as it involves local authorities acting independently of national government, often going further on green policies than them.

However, many in the leadership of the Leave campaign – frontrunners to succeed Prime Minister David Cameron if he is toppled by a Brexit vote – are climate sceptics.

What about Trump?

The politicians were also asked about the threat posed by Republican Party presidential candidate nominee Donald Trump.

Trump is a climate change denier, recently claiming it was a plot cooked up by the Chinese to hurt US manufacturing.

“The problem is one of the most serious problems in the world which is climate change because it has the potential to literally destroy all life as we know it and turn this planet into a bare planet like Mars,” Bloomberg said.

Bloomberg commented that history had shown that politicians didn’t always do what they said on the campaign trail once they were elected.

“The real progress has been made at a city level by city governments and the private sector,” he said, “I am not so much worried about what any one candidate says, although some things are inexplicable.”

“I am not so much worried about whether the federal government does things. It is the city governments and private sector that is going to get you to drive more fuel-efficient cars and use cleaner energy.”

Figueres agreed that the private sector would drive the transition to a low carbon economy, because it made economic sense. The US would be at the forefront of that innovation, she said, no matter who was president.

Šefčovič said there was a broad consensus in global public opinion that global warming was man-made and required action.

“Every reasonable politician should take this into account,” he said.

EU climate goal controversy

After the Paris Agreement was struck, the European Commission came under pressure to increase its 2030 energy efficiency targets to match the ambition of the deal. The deal also sets an aspirational 1.5 degree target.

The efficiency target is currently at 27% but the European Parliament has repeatedly demanded this be upped to 40%. Asked for her view, Figueres said action was needed and quickly.

“The current efforts on the part of the EU but on the parts of all countries are insufficient [to stay below two degrees],” she said.

“Hence any additional efforts that come through either efficiency or renewable energy or transportation sectors are actually not just welcome, they are urgent.”

James Crisp, EurActiv.com

This article first appeared on EurActiv.com, an edie content partner

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