Green campaigners have criticised the UK government for apparently removing references to the temperature goals of the Paris climate agreement from a prospective trade deal with Australia.
According to Sky News, the trade deal – which was agreed in principle in June – was set to contain references to the Paris goals of limiting global heating to 2C above pre-industrial levels, with an aspiration to a lower limit of 1.5C.
Instead, the references to the temperature limits were left out, but the commitment to fulfilling the terms of the agreement was kept.
Sky News said it had obtained an email, which has not been published, from a senior UK government official that showed the more explicit reference to temperature goals was cut in order to seal the deal with the Australian government.
Australia is nominally committed to the 2015 Paris agreement but Scott Morrison, the prime minister, has been heavily criticised for showing little enthusiasm for climate action, on which the country is widely considered a global laggard.
The UK-Australian trade deal has also been attacked by farmers and green campaigners for allowing the import of large quantities of cheap beef and other agricultural goods produced to lower standards than are permitted in the UK.
The Australian government did not deny the report. Dan Tehan, Australia’s minister for trade, tourism and investment, told the Guardian: “The Australia-UK free trade agreement will deliver more jobs and greater access for businesses and workers in both countries, all of which will drive economic growth. Australia has remained consistent that all our FTAs should focus on international cooperation and meeting existing multilateral environment commitments.”
He added: “Australia and the UK have agreed to work cooperatively on environmental issues, including emissions reduction … Our technology-not-taxes approach to addressing climate change is delivering results, with updated forecasts showing Australia is on track to meet and beat our 2030 Paris target.”
He also noted that last month, Australia and the UK signed a letter of intent to establish a partnership on low emissions solutions that will focus on research and development across six key technologies including clean hydrogen; carbon capture; small nuclear reactors; and low emissions materials including green steel.
John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said the removal of the explicit reference to temperature goals undermined the government’s hosting of the Cop26 UN climate talks this November in Glasgow.
“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,” he said.
“There should be a moratorium on trade deals with countries like Australia until they improve on their weak climate targets and end deforestation.”
Caroline Lucas, the Green party MP, also criticised the removal of explicit language on temperature goals. “This revelation paints a bleak picture of both the government’s priorities and their abysmal negotiating power post-Brexit … their readiness to compromise on the existential challenge of our time raises serious concerns on what else might be on the table in ongoing trade negotiations.”
Ed Miliband, Labour’s business secretary, said the government should be doing more to put pressure on Australia to come forward with stronger commitments on greenhouse gas emissions before Cop26, rather than watering down a trade agreement.
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.”