French diplomat issues rallying cry for Britain to pursue greenest possible EU exit, to preserve its influence on world stage
The UK must deliver a green Brexit and remain close to Brussels on climate issues afterwards to help protect the Paris Agreement, French climate diplomat Laurence Tubiana insisted at an event in London last night.
Speaking at the Green Alliance's annual debate, Tubiana argued a strong partnership between the UK and the EU post-Brexit would help provide a counterpoint to US and Chinese influence in global climate negotiations, and offer strong protection against any weakening of international carbon reduction goals set out in the Paris Agreement.
The French economist and former climate change diplomat played a major role in the Paris Agreement negotiations in 2015 as France's ambassador to COP21. An experienced political figure, she took over as CEO of the European Climate Foundation in December 2016.
Speaking yesterday to an audience of green economy leaders, Tubiana argued Britain's future influence on the world stage depends on it embracing a post-Brexit vision as a clean growth hub. "For me, global Britain is a green Britain," she said. "It exists in the inspirational coalition, the Powering Past Coal Alliance. It exists in Prime Minister May's upcoming summit on EVs, on Claire Perry's commitment to deliver new net zero targets."
And if the UK and Europe don't work together to present a strong united front on climate policy, both parties risk losing the balance of power in global talks, she warned. "If we don't want to see the global geopolitics move totally to Asia, and if we don't want this multiple opportunities with different powers in the future, we have to have Europe - whatever we design Europe - as a strong counterpart to China. We don't want to go from a US dominated global economy to a China dominated global economy."
The first step on this journey is to ensure the UK's exit from the EU is as green as possible, Tubiana said, laying out a series of 'green tests' to judge whether the government's commitment to delivering a green Brexit is adhered to.
As a first step, Tubiana called for the main targets of the Paris Agreement - to limit global warming to "well below" two degrees - to be enshrined in any future trade deal between the EU and the UK. "This can be a new way for the UK to lead the world once again. It would be very innovative to have in the trade deal something that clearly is compatible and consistent with Paris," she said.
The EU has repeatedly stressed that UK compliance with EU environmental rules and standards is a red line for any future trade deal, and the intervention from Tubiana - well connected in French and EU politics - will act as another warning flag against any planned relaxation of green standards.
Tubiana also waded into an increasingly bitter row in the UK over the government's plans for a new post-Brexit green watchdog. Campaigners are concerned that under draft proposals the new watchdog will be left with few powers of enforcement, and want to see it awarded the ability to launch legal proceedings against the government and impose fines if necessary.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove reportedly wrote to Cabinet Ministers last Thursday to provide his take on the government's defeat in the House of Lords last week, which saw an amendment inserted in the Withdrawal Bill to retain current levels of environmental protection and enforcement.
Rumours across Whitehall had blamed the Treasury for watering down the proposals, and Gove's letter forcefully pointed the finger of blame at the Chancellor. "Defra argued that if we were to deliver the government's promises, our proposals must at the very least replicate the status quo - specifically, the enforcement powers of the European Commission and maintenance of the principles in legislation," the Telegraph quoted the letter as saying.
According to Tubiana, strong environmental oversight through maintaining at least the current enforcement standard set by Brussels is essential for ensuring governments remain honest and stick to their climate commitments. "Leaving Europe cannot be an excuse to weaken existing environmental laws," she insisted. "The government must replace the powers of the European Commission with equally strong rules, and enforcement powers for new institutions to deliver them. This is essential to protect British people, and to protect their European friends. Because pollution has no borders."
Of the watchdog itself, she said it is "vital" the body "has teeth", with the power to compel current and future governments to act. "Remember, whatever you think about the current US administration, the EPA, it has the power to take government to court if it doesn't deliver its commitment," she said. "So you have to ask yourself, do you really want to have weaker environmental governance than the US? Probably not."
Finally, Tubiana welcomed the government's move to explore the feasibility of adopting a climate strategy in line with a 1.5 degree trajectory, which would likely mean achieving net zero carbon emissions by mid-century. "I applaud [Claire Perry] for committing the UK to exploring what a net zero target will look like in a British context," Tubiana said. "The 1.5 target is one of the most important aspects of the Paris Agreement. It is vital for governments to show leadership on this now."
The government has repeatedly promised to use Brexit as an opportunity to enhance the UK's environmental ambitions. As Tubiana made clear last night, ensuring this promise is upheld is vital, not just to soothe domestic fears, but to preserve the consensus for ambitious climate action on the international stage.
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