An email from a senior Cabinet Official, leaked to Sky News this week, showed British Government ministers discussing dropping “climate asks” to get the Brexit trade deal being finalised with Australia “over the line”. The leak has led to a fierce backlash from around the globe, with politicians and activists calling on both governments to honour the Paris Agreement on climate change.
According to the email seen by Sky News, Trade Secretary Liz Truss and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng agreed to drop binding commitments to the Paris Agreement from the Brexit trade deal being finalised between the two nations.
The deal is still expected to contain a reference to the Paris Agreement, but a reference to specific temperature reduction commitments will be removed from the text.
The leaked email allegedly referred to “a reference to Paris Agreement temperature goals” to be removed.
The Paris Agreement makes countries set goals in order to limit global warming to well below 2C, preferably to 1.5C, and other Free Trade Agreements signed by the UK include explicit references to the Paris Agreement, including the EU-UK Brexit deal.
However, the UK Government insisted it hadn’t bowed to pressure from Australia and the agreement will still include a firm commitment to the Paris Agreement.
A spokesperson said: “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.
“Any suggestion the deal won’t sign up to these vital commitments is completely untrue.”
However, the Australian Government has not denied the report.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said this “wasn’t a climate agreement, it was a trade agreement”, seemingly dismissing the need to have climate targets included in a trade deal at all.
He said: “In trade agreements, I deal with trade issues. In climate agreements, I deal with climate issues.”
Australia is nominally committed to the 2015 Paris deal, but Mr Morrison has faced fierce criticism for lagging on climate action despite severe weather events in Australia in recent years.
The revelations surrounding the UK-Australia trade deal have ramped up criticism for both sides.
Australian Opposition leader Anthony Albanese accused Mr Morrison of holding Australia back on renewable energy opportunities to create jobs and reduce energy prices.
He said: “The Paris commitments are something that Australia has signed up to, but which Australia continues to sit in the naughty corner with the rest of the world.
“The whole world has signed up to net-zero emissions by 2050.
“Scott Morrison continues to be a recalcitrant when it comes to climate change action.”
And in the UK, Ed Miliband, Labour’s business secretary, said the Government should be doing more to pressure Australia to make stronger commitments.
He said: “Australia is one of the world’s biggest polluters and key to the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C. But rather than piling pressure on them, the Government has simply rolled over.
“This Government is pursuing trade deals at the expense of our farmers and now our climate targets. This is simply a massive betrayal of our country and our planet.”
John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said: “Signing an Australian trade deal with action on climate temperature commitments secretly removed is the polar opposite of everything Boris Johnson publicly pledged and rips the heart out of what the agreement stands for.
“It will be a race to the bottom, impacting on clean tech sectors and farmers’ livelihoods.
“There should be a moratorium on trade deals with countries like Australia until they improve on their weak climate targets and end deforestation.”