BETRAYAL: UN Envoy Slams UK, Germany Backtracking on Paris Agreement
The United Kingdom and Germany are betraying the spirit of the United Nations climate agreement in Paris by continuing to subsidize fossil fuels, says UN climate envoy Mary Robinson.
Robinson, a former president of Ireland and now UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s personal envoy on climate change and El Niño, “said she had to speak out after Germany promised compensation for coal power and the UK provided tax breaks for oil and gas,” The Guardian reports.
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The British government has “introduced new tax breaks for oil and gas in 2015 that will cost the UK taxpayer billions between 2015 and 2020, and at the same time they’ve cut support for renewables and for energy efficiency,” Robinson said. “That’s not in the spirit [of the Paris accord]. In many ways, the UK was a real leader” on climate, “and hopefully the UK will become again a real leader. But it’s not at the moment.”
Added outgoing UN climate secretary Christiana Figueres, now a candidate for UN Secretary General: “Let us remember that the Brexit vote was not about climate change.”
Robinson pointed to Germany’s use of capacity payments as an example of mixed signals on fossil subsidies, and urged the country to solidify its commitment to phase out coal. “Germany says it is on track to end coal subsidies by 2018, but the German government is also introducing new mechanisms that provide payment to power companies for their ability to provide a constant supply of electricity, even if they are polluting forms, such as diesel and coal,” she said.
And she stressed that the critique was not limited to the UK and Germany. “We want all countries to end subsidies,” she told The Guardian’s Adam Vaughan, noting that a recent trip to Ethiopia had given her a first-hand look at the impacts of climate change exacerbated by natural phenomena like El Niño. “I saw so many malnourished children, and it’s not tolerable,” she said.
The sharp criticism of UK climate policy follows Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to fold the country’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) into an expanded Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, a move that ex-Labour energy and climate secretary Ed Miliband called “plain stupid”.
“Climate not even mentioned in new dept. title,” he tweeted. “Matters because depts shape priorities, shape outcomes.”
UK Green Party leader Natalie Bennett called the reorganization a “damning indictment of the UK’s energy policy,” noting that May had “appointed an environment secretary who has consistently voted against measures to tackle climate change.” She urged the new PM to“listen carefully to Robinson’s remarks and start reversing the damaging policies put in place by her predecessor—like giving tax breaks to fossil fuel companies while cutting subsidies for renewables.”
Ex-Liberal Democrat DECC secretary Ed Davey said the decision was “a major setback for the UK’s climate change efforts.” He added that BEIS Minister Greg Clark “may be nice and he may even be green, but by downgrading the Whitehall status of climate change, Theresa May has hit low-carbon investor confidence yet again.”
May’s announcement fulfills a long-held demand of UK climate deniers, at a time when “one of the most pressing items on the environment agenda is the ratification of the Paris climate deal,” the BBC reports.
Conservative leadership candidate Andrea Leadsom was appointed environment secretary, and promptly “reiterated that there will be no deviation from long-term carbon targets,” writes BBC environmental analyst Roger Harrabin.
DECC “made the UK a world leader in climate policy,” Harrabin notes, and the decision to roll it into an expanded business department “could be read as either a positive move for climate policy, or a negative one.”
The UK Greens and Friends of the Earth saw the announcement “as potentially a major downgrade for climate as a government priority,” he writes. But “if you really intend climate change to drive an industrial transformation, why not embrace it within a powerful department that’s developing the sort of industrial strategy needed to forge a genuine low-carbon economy?” Harrabin notes that newly-appointed Business Secretary Greg Clark was previously a shadow minister of energy and climate, and has written papers on the low-carbon transition.
WWF-UK CEO David Nussbaum said the new PM may have created “a real powerhouse for change, joining up Whitehall teams to progress the resilient, sustainable, and low-carbon infrastructure that we urgently need.” Dr. Benny Peiser of the Global Warming Policy Forum (GWPF) added that the combined department “should give ministers a fresh impetus to ensure that the costs for consumers and businesses are driven down, not pushed further up.”