Ministers bowed to pressure to drop binding commitments to the Paris climate change agreement from its post-Brexit trade agreement with Australia, leaked government emails have revealed.
Liz Truss, the trade secretary, and Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, ruled the government could “drop both of the climate asks” from the text of the controversial trade deal, according to emails from a senior official seen by Sky News.
Among the chunks removed from the text was “a reference to Paris Agreement temperature goals”, the broadcaster reported.
References to Paris will remain, but they will be “implicit” rather than spelt out in the text of the trade treaty, it was revealed.
It is in stark contrast with the UK’s trade deal with the European Union, where temperature commitments are explicitly in the deal.
Paris Agreement dropped
However, Sky News reported, Boris Johnson’s administration will claim a climate “win” by referencing the Paris Agreement in the text of the treaty – the first time that has happened in an Australian trade deal.
The leaked email was sent last month, and reveals details about internal government discussion over the trade deal. It comes from a senior official in the “trade secretariat” of the Cabinet Office.
He writes: “As flagged in my note to Lord Frost, the Business and Trade Secretaries were due to speak yesterday. We haven’t yet seen the formal read out, but we understand the conversation took place and the Business Secretary has agreed that, in order to get the Australia FTA over the line, DIT can drop both of the climate asks (ie on precedence of Multilateral Environmental Agreements over FTA provisions and a reference to Paris Agreement temperature goals.)”
The Paris Agreement forces countries to set goals to limit global warming to well below 2C – and is references in other trade agreements signed by the UK.
Australia is a signatory to the Paris Agreement, but the country’s prime minister Scott Morrison has submitted less ambitious targets than other major nations.
John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said that the revelation revealed ministers as “absolutely duplicitous”.
He told Sky News: “Boris Johnson in a letter to me and other environmental leaders said that the trade agreement will include commitments to all multilateral environmental agreements including the Paris Agreement.
“The reason he wrote this letter is because he was saying trade and the environment cannot be separated, he said this is not going to be a race to the bottom, we’re not going to undercut regulations.
“He said this was going to be a race to the top. What this email shows is that this is just a barefaced lie and that actually what they’re doing is the opposite: this is a race to the bottom and it is a disaster.”
Australia says it will still meet its Paris commitment, but Green groups are concerned because, reports @SamCoatesSky— Sky News (@SkyNews) September 8, 2021
Greenpeace UK’s John Sauven says ‘if we cannot get a country like Australia to take the environment seriously, we are in big trouble.’https://t.co/fLjUvftT33 pic.twitter.com/zvoKSNlJ0I
‘Doesn’t want to be held account’
Sam Lowe, a trade expert at the Centre for European Reform, added: “Australia doesn’t want the trade deal to be made conditional to their membership of Paris Agreement, so essentially it doesn’t want to be held to account in the event it doesn’t do what it says it does in relation to the agreement.
“It has made commitments to reduce its carbon emissions over a number years, but there is a suspicion it doesn’t have much intention to do so, as the economy is quite reliant on coal, and its politicians are sceptical of climate change. So it doesn’t want to have a binding international obligation that will require it to go through with this.”
A government source told the broadcaster: A government source said: “The final text of the agreement will contain a commitment to address all the Paris climate goals – so therefore implicitly includes temperature. It’s also the first time Australia will have ever included climate provisions in a trade deal. And includes various clauses for tackling emissions and so forth.
“There is a dedicated climate chapter which includes a substantive stand-alone article on climate change, where both parties affirm their commitment to address climate change, including under UNFCCC and Paris frameworks and recognition of the importance of achieving Paris/UNFCC goals, by implication, this covers the three main goals of Paris.”
A government spokesperson told TLE: “Our ambitious trade deal with Australia will include a substantive article on climate change which reaffirms both parties’ commitments to The Paris Agreement and achieving its goals, including limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. Any suggestion the deal won’t sign up to these vital commitments is completely untrue.”
“The UK’s climate change and environment policies are some of the most ambitious in the world, reflecting our commitment as the first major economy to pass new laws for net zero emissions by 2050.”