Brexit: UK accused of using climate change as ‘bargaining chip’

Green groups in London and Brussels have hit out at reports that the UK’s team negotiating a post-Brexit deal with the EU is resisting demands for the Paris Agreement to be included as an “essential element”.

A UK government spokesperson said that the country “does not require an additional binding international legal commitment” on climate change beyond the global deal it signed in Paris in 2016. 

“The agreements we reach with the EU should reaffirm both parties’ commitments to the Paris Agreement and recognise both sides’ right to decide their own regulation to meet our respective climate goals,” the spokesperson added. 

However, officials in Brussels are pushing for the post-Brexit deal to put climate change on the same legal footing as respecting human rights and the rule of law, which would allow either side to unilaterally impose trade restrictions should the other abandon its commitments under the Paris Agreement. An EU official told the FT that “for now, the UK does not seem to want this”.

The European Commission has pledged to enshrine Paris pledges in all new comprehensive free trade deals, with member states France and the Netherlands this week calling for that commitment to be expanded to ongoing negotiations and any existing deals that require updating. 

While the UK government spokesperson stressed that the country is committed to leading on climate change mitigation, campaigners nevertheless expressed concern at the news. 

Shaun Spiers, chair of London-based umbrella group Greener UK, said it was important for the UK to “maintain its reputation as a global leader on climate action” in the run-up to the COP26 climate talks next year. 

“It is deeply regrettable that the government appears to be using climate change as a bargaining chip in EU negotiations,” he told ENDS. “This sends an odd message to the world about our priorities,” he added. 

Meanwhile, Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe urged the EU to stick to its negotiating position. 

"We strongly support the EU to include strong climate components in any future trade deal, including an enforceable commitment to take sufficient action to achieve the long-term temperature goals of the Paris Agreement,” said Cornelia Maarfield, the group’s trade and climate project manager.

“Given both the EU and the UK claim international leadership in the fight against climate change, they should use this trade agreement as an example of how real climate action and cooperation can be integrated into trade agreements,” she told ENDS. 

EU officials have repeatedly criticised the UK’s opposition to binding environmental commitments in the post-Brexit deal. Michel Barnier, the bloc’s chief negotiator for the talks, said last month that the UK was failing to engage constructively on enshrining “high social and high environmental standards” in the deal.

simon.pickstone@haymarket.com

A version of this article first appeared on ENDS Europe's sister site ENDS Report

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