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Analysis

Yes, Trump’s at odds with UK climate goals. But so is Brexit

by Luke Lythgoe | 03.06.2019

Theresa May is planning to raise the issue of climate change with Donald Trump during his state visit because “tackling global warming is a priority for the UK”, insists Number 10. Talking frankly to this carbon-crazed president is all very well. But there’s fat chance of the UK assuming a global leadership role on the issue until the energy-sapping spectacle of Brexit is thrown on the fire too.

This government has only tentatively come round to the idea that it might be good if the UK to takes the lead on climate change. Number 10’s response to urgent calls from its own panel of experts was muted and it criticised protests by school children earlier this year. The recent resolve to confront Trump only comes after 250 climate scientists urged Theresa May to do so – and with a formal one-to-one seemingly off the cards, it’s doubtful how effective being browbeaten by a lame-duck prime minister will be.

Changing this president’s mind on climate change seems highly improbable anyway. Trump has already pulled the US out of the Paris climate agreement, cut off funding to help poorer countries tackle global warming, presided over the largest rise in US carbon emissions since 2009/10, attacked climate experts for their “political agenda” and hailed “beautiful, clean coal” at his State of the Union address.

The UK would do better focusing its energy elsewhere. And we would have a great deal more energy if we weren’t bogged down in Brexit.

Reducing global carbon emissions and averting climate catastrophe requires complex international partnerships. It requires time, effort, diplomacy and compromise. Who knows, maybe a big enough alliance of nations could even make a leader like Trump pay attention.

That’s why leaving the EU right now is such a daft idea. Brexit doesn’t just make working with our European partners harder and rob the UK of a huge platform to push its goals and values. It has also created a paralysed zombie government in Westminster, unable to agree our future role in the world. And as long as we leave, whether with a Brexit deal or not, that paralysis will continue as politicians spend years arguing about what comes next.

Then consider the climate sceptics who back Brexit and may end up in power thanks to the political turmoil it has unleashed. Sure, Boris Johnson is sensitive to climate issues – albeit less than supportive of the recent protests. But there are many more Brexiters who share Trump’s views: former Vote Leave chair Nigel Lawson is an outspoken climate denier, Nigel Farage once said it could be one of the “biggest, stupidest, collective mistakes in history” to worry about climate change.

The government talks about “our work at the UN and with our Commonwealth partners” on climate change. The UK has even put in a bid to host the UN’s annual climate change forum next year. How perverse to simultaneously be dismantling bridges with EU partners who most closely share our climate values and goals. The UK has been a leader on climate change before, and it can be again – but not while we burn all our energy on Brexit.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon

2 Responses to “Yes, Trump’s at odds with UK climate goals. But so is Brexit”

  • Has anyone reputable polling firm measured any correlation between climate change deniers and voting Leave?

  • It’s a pity there are so few links being made between Brexit and climate change. Not just in terms of CO2 emissions, but also additional fuel. It cannot be environmentally sustainable to downgrade and put up barriers to trade with our closest geographical market. Its obvious that as a trading nation we will be forced to put our empahasis on longer distance trading patterns on the other side of the planet. That’s one of the main reasons the extra runway at Heathrow has been given the go ahead.