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Climate Change Doesn't Give A Damn About Trump Or Brexit

02/06/2017 16:25
VICTOR DE SCHWANBERG/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY via Getty Images

It's official. The USA - the world's biggest economy and second largest emitter - has ditched commitments to take action to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Brexit has consumed the last year of British politics, led to the general election and will be the dominant issue for years to come. But, as Mr Trump's recent withdrawal from the Paris Agreement has shown, there are other crucial matters at stake over the next five years which are being worryingly over-shadowed.

Not only will the process of leaving and redefining our relationship with the EU consume our political discourse for the foreseeable future, it will also clog up the machineries of government. Little else will get a look in as whoever wins on June 8 attempts to unscramble an omelette decades in the making.

Yet climate change doesn't give a damn about Brexit.

Its impacts, like droughts and floods, get worse every year, destroying homes and livelihoods here in the UK and fuelling starvation and refugee crises across the globe. Attempts to tackle the causes of climate change risk being derailed by governments, including Mr Trump's, refusing to make the changes necessary to meet the Paris Agreement.

The next UK government will oversee a crucial, watershed period. To have a hope of keeping the world below 1.5 degrees of warming - the temperature below which humanity has the best chance of minimising dangerous impacts of climate change - drastic action must be taken before 2020.

Currently, we're just not doing enough. According to the Committee on Climate Change - the official watchdog of Government action on climate change - we are off-track for meeting legally-binding 2025 carbon reductions. The next government has a huge responsibility to get the UK back on track, and challenge other world powers who do not pull their weight.

Some will talk Britain down, arguing that climate change and its impacts are not something we have any power to alter. "The UK is just a small country, what difference could we possibly make?" they will say. But such talk diminishes both our global role and potential impact. We have long punched above our weight: our finance sector, our innovation, the global reach and influence of our cleaner technologies.

And being part of the solution is not only a planetary necessity, it's exciting too.

Renewable energy is currently being deployed at record rates, with $300 billion investment globally last year - twice that for fossil fuels - and the costs of renewables continue to plummet. A revolution in global energy and energy storage is underway, and happening far faster than most politicians realise. We can't stop all climate change, but there is growing hope we can still halt the worst of it.

The 2020s could see a colossal economic success story for the UK, as it moves to a digital, renewable, smart electricity grid which saves consumers money, goes low-carbon, and creates thousands of new businesses and export opportunities. Or it could see us losing those opportunities and limping along with old polluting technologies and an increasingly patched-up make-do old-tech 20th century grid, as Trump has now condemned the US to continue to do.

We should be leaders, not followers. We should be heaping political pressure on our friends across the pond to live up to the commitments made in Paris, and working with them to bring our joint economic and technological power to bear on the fight against dangerous climate change. But instead of looking outwards, we appear destined to spend the next two, three, five, ten years, even, looking in. Indeed, the real curse of Brexit may be the crises we don't deal with and the opportunities missed because we just do not have time.

The challenge is clear. While Brexit may consume our agendas, as a country we must not let it consume us. And we must not allow the future government, whoever that may be, to make the same mistake as Mr Trump and present climate change as an unwelcome distraction from inward-facing political posturing. Brexit cannot be used as an excuse to put off, delay or prevent the action on climate change which is desperately needed now, not in a decade's time.

For a start, all parties must commit to urgently publish a plan to deliver our legally binding carbon budgets and a UK climate strategy which will show the part we will play in delivering the Paris Climate Agreement goal of keeping global temperature rises below 1.5 degrees.

The next government must get on board with the renewable energy revolution and make our electricity generation carbon free by 2030. If they're serious about dealing with climate change they must finally put the nail in the coffin of new fossil fuel industries by banning fracking and ending coal extraction. And if they want to lead the world into a safe and secure future, they need to refuse to enter into any trade deal with the US while Mr Trump continues to threaten the climate agreements laid out in Paris. Our 'special relationship' with the US cannot extend to supporting a nation that would so flippantly jeopardise the climate for future generations.

It's not going to be easy. But it is necessary. We can't let Brexit or Trump overshadow issues which simply cannot wait.

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