Ministers have reportedly dropped specific climate change commitments from a trade deal with Australia, in a move that campaigners have said will trigger a “race to the bottom” for green pledges.
Sky News said a leaked email from a senior official in the Cabinet Office showed how ministers had agreed to “drop both of the climate asks” from the trade deal, including “a reference to Paris Agreement temperature goals” in order to “get the Australia FTA (free trade agreement) over the line”.
It was reported that International Trade Secretary Liz Truss and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng had agreed to scrap specific references to temperature commitments, but that references to the Paris Agreement – a legally binding international treaty to pursue efforts to prevent temperatures rising more than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels – would still be mentioned.
Sky reported that Australia, which is the only developed country that has, as yet, failed to improve on its target set in the Paris Agreement in 2015, had demanded the language around temperature commitments be dropped.
But a Government 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, including limiting global warming to 1.5C. Any suggestion the deal won’t sign up to these vital commitments is completely untrue.”
Greenpeace said any removal of specific temperature commitments “renders using the term Paris Agreement utterly useless”.
The organisation’s executive director, John Sauven, said: “The UK Government pledged to embed the environment at the very heart of trade, including supporting the Paris Agreement on climate and zero deforestation in supply chains.
“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.
“At the moment the public and parliament are being duped by the Prime Minister into thinking this deal is great for Britain when in reality nothing could be further from the truth.”
Jean Blaylock, trade campaigner at Global Justice Now, said: “This is typical of the Government’s approach to trade deals. Climate commitments will always come second to a free trade arrangement, regardless of the consequences for the planet.”
Boris Johnson wrote to Greenpeace in August to pledge that any Australian trade deal would “include a chapter on trade and environment which not only reaffirms commitments to multilateral environmental agreements, including the Paris Agreement, but also commits both parties to collaborate on climate and environmental issues”.
In a letter seen by the PA news agency he told the group, as well as other organisations: “We are clear that more trade will not come at the expense of the environment.”
But Greenpeace said the dropping of specific commitments to temperature “undermines trust in the Government as host of the upcoming UN climate summit, Cop26, and undoes all the promises made to Parliament and the public that trade deals would not be a race to the bottom”.
A Government source told Sky News: “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.”
Ms Truss said in July that the final trade deal with Australia will be fully drafted by the end of the year.
The deal was agreed in principle earlier this year and will see many tariffs removed between the UK and Australia.
But the legal text is yet to be hammered out.