Climate change should be off limits in Article 50 talks

This piece originally appeared in the Times on the 15th of November 2016


Last December in Paris the world agreed to chill. Against forecasts of a warming globe, leaders agreed to halt the rise in temperature at below 2C. It is the first time that the world has agreed to bind itself into a cooler place.

The EU was a serious player in those negotiations. That is hardly a surprise. The EU is possessed of the world’s most ambitious climate change targets. However, the ambitions rest upon precarious foundations. Neither the cost of meeting the targets nor the burden of economic adjustment is shared evenly. All 28 nations are equal, but some are more equal than others. That’s hardly surprising when certain EU nations depend on coal, others on nuclear, and no nation has really cracked the renewables conundrum.

Then came Brexit — and Donald Trump.

Over the next decade the UK will provide £2 billion to help the less able members of the EU club to meet their climate obligations. And the UK itself will shoulder 10 per cent of the EU’s emission reduction burden. Also, in the regular bun fights between the green Swedes and the coal Poles, it is often the UK’s support of a progressive agenda that has carried the day for climate change. Without the money, the burden share and the leadership of the UK, the EU will struggle to meet its UN climate change commitments.

The EU will struggle, but the UK will not. Our climate change targets are already 17 per cent higher than the EU as a whole and we are on target to meet them. The EU target, to reduce emissions across the continent by 40 per cent, will become harder for the remaining countries without the UK’s effort.

For all the flaws that can be fixed by Brexit, climate change is not one of them. It is in the UK’s vital interest that carbon emissions are reduced. Anything that reduces the ability of the EU to meet its targets is a danger to our nation.

So let’s remove the climate change agenda from Brexit negotiations. The stakes are too high to horse trade away the progress we have made and can make. If that means we must commit to sharing the burden, then we should commit. We are a climate change leader, and this is a time for climate leadership.

So Theresa May, Jean-Claude Juncker and all other EU leaders: take climate change off the table. The stakes are too high and it’s not only the arguments that are heating up.