135 UK scientists urge Theresa May to challenge President Trump on climate change when he visits this week, arguing US inaction threatens UK's national security
As the UK prepares for Donald Trump's controversial visit later this week, hundreds of scientists have today urged Prime Minister Theresa May to directly challenge the US President over his stance on climate change, warning that American inaction on the issue puts the UK's national security at risk.
Published today, a letter signed by 135 members of the UK's climate change research community criticises President Trump's "policy of inaction" on tackling climate change, highlighting his decision to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement and refusal to engage with the issue at the recent G7 summit.
The letter argues the refusal by the US administration - the world's second largest emitter - to contribute to international efforts to manage the substantial risks caused by rising greenhouse gas emissions threatens the long-term security of the UK.
It cites a UK national security review from 2015 which highlights climate change as a major risk to the country, as well as Trump's repeated actions to "undermine climate researchers" in the US and ignore the advice of international experts.
"We believe that the UK government should challenge President Trump about this policy of inaction on climate change," the letter states. "President Macron of France has publicly criticised President Trump's stance and we believe that the UK should take advantage of its special relationship with the United States to show similar leadership. We do not believe that the best interests of the UK, or the rest of the world, would be best served by attempting to appease President Trump on this issue."
President Trump is expected to be met by fierce protests and a giant 'Trump Baby' blimp flying overhead when he arrives in London on Friday after attending a Nato summit in Brussels the day before.
Trump is set to be joined by First Lady Melania Trump on the three-day visit, during which he will meet the Queen, the PM, and a number of business leaders. Downing Street declined to provide any detail on what was on the agenda for the meeting between May and Trump, however.
Today's letter calls on May to highlight her "international leadership" on climate change when she meets Trump, noting the UK's reduction of domestic greenhouse gas emissions by 46 per cent between 1990 and 2016 while the economy has simultaneously grown. Over the same period, the GDP per capita of the US rose by just 44 per cent and its emissions climbed by 2.4 per cent, it adds.
"Above all, the UK government should make the argument that policy-making about climate change should be based on the best available evidence," the letter states. "Policy-makers should draw on the findings of the global climate research community, and take account of the risks it poses across the world and to future generations. Climate change should not be treated as if it were just as an issue of partisan domestic politics."
May has in the past signalled that she disagrees with Trump on climate change, but has resisted calls to condemn the US approach in similarly strident tones to those adopted by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Trump's visit follows recent scientific research which delivered stark warnings that the long-term impacts on the planet from human-caused climate change may have been significantly underestimated, and temperatures could rise to double the level predicted by some current climate models.
The study, which was published in Nature Geoscience last month, warns that even if global average temperature increases are limited to 2C this century - the upper limit ambition set out in the Paris Agreement - climate zones and ecosystems will shift, rapid polar warming may release additional greenhouse gases, and sea levels could ultimately rise by more than six metres.
Sea level rises could become unstoppable for millennia, impacting much of the world's population, infrastructure and economic activity near coastlines, according to the study.
The international research team led by scientists from Australia, the US and Switzerland concluded that climate modelling often focuses on the impacts of climate change over the course of the current century, but fails to take into account the cumulative effect of emissions and warming which is likely to see impacts on the planet escalate from 2100 and beyond.
One of the study's lead authors, Hubertus Fischer from the University of Bern, explained that permafrost thaw from warming this century may release additional carbon dioxide and methane to the atmosphere, driving additional future warming. "Accounting for the additional release of CO2 leaves even less room for error or delay as humanity seeks to lower its CO2 emissions and stabilize global climate within reasonable limits," he said.
In order to improve climate forecasting therefore, scientists should seek to compare their short-term modelling with observations of the planetary impact of warming over the past 3.5 million years, which has at intervals previously seen temperatures between 0.5C and 2C warmer than the 19th century.
Co-author Katrin Meissner from the University of New South Wales in Australia said: "While climate model projections seem to be trustworthy when considering relatively small changes over the next decades, it is worrisome that these models likely underestimate climate change under higher emission scenarios, such as a 'business as usual' scenario, and especially over longer time scales."
Given President Trump's repeated snubbing of the scientific community and climate warnings, it seems unlikely the latest stark picture painted by research is likely to sway his stance. However, it further underscores the urgent need to engage the world's biggest economy on the greatest challenge - and opportunity - currently facing the planet, something the UK prime minister will have the opportunity to do later this week.
What's more, given the UK's significant progress and economic boost from its major cut in emissions over the past two decades, May has a strong story to tell and arguably a better chance than any other world leader in capturing the President's attention. The question is whether or not she has the nerve to seize that opportunity at a time when the notoriously thin-skinned President is also dangling the prospect of a post-Brexit trade deal in front of Number 10?
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