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Why Now is the Time for the UK to Ratify the Paris Agreement

Baroness Bryony Worthington, Executive Director, Environmental Defense Fund Europe

Baroness Bryony Worthington, Executive Director, Environmental Defense Fund Europe

This week in the UK, a statutory instrument setting an emissions limt 57% below 1990 levels, for the period 2028-32, passed into law. The fact that the Government announced the carbon budget that enacts this limit on June 30th, one of the most extraordinary days of one of the most extraordinary weeks in British politics, is a testimony to the strength of the UK’s Climate Change Act, which provides a legal metronome for climate action in the UK, whatever the political circumstances, even when they are so all consuming. The Climate Change Act is a flexible, long term, technology neutral approach to climate mitigation that can bend so as not to break. The 5th carbon budget is, in essence, the UK’s own Paris target, covering the same time period as the European Nationally Determined Contribution.

Also this week, I wrote to congratulate the RT Hon Greg Clark MP, the new Secretary of State for the Department of Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and asking him to demonstrate the UK’s continued commitment to climate change, domestically and internationally, by initiating the legal ratification process the Paris Agreement in the UK.

For the Paris Agreement to come into global effect, 55 countries, representing 55% of global emissions need to legally ratify it or otherwise join. Our recent analysis shows the world is tantalisingly close to reaching these thresholds, with countries representing 54.4% of global emissions (against a target of 55%) currently expecting to ratify by the end of 2016 (as illustrated in this briefing: EDF Europe Paris Agreement Briefing).

The UK is responsible for 1.5% of global emissions, so the UK would tip the balance and leadership on the issue could make all the difference, bringing many tangible benefits, both here and globally including ensuring our efforts are matched in other countries and securing new markets for exports of climate change beating goods and services.

During the 5th Carbon Budget debate in the House of Lords on Tuesday, the new Lords Minister Baroness Neville Rolfe, reflected on the Climate Change Act saying: “Leaving the EU will bring challenges and opportunities to the UK. However, it does not change the fact that climate change remains one of the most serious long-term risks to our stability… The Act was passed with near-unanimous cross-party support, and this legal framework has inspired countries across the world, including Denmark, Finland and France. At its heart is a system of five-year cycles, mirrored in the historic Paris climate agreement, which the UK helped to achieve.”

I asked the Minister when the UK will ratify the Paris Agreement and she replied: “I can confirm that this Government remain committed to ratifying the Paris agreement, which was agreed last year by 195 countries, as soon as possible.” The process of ratification is not a lengthy or complex one. Once tabled, a simple statutory instrument becomes law after 21 sitting days. For a fuller explanation of why and how UK can play a leading role in the next stage of the historic Paris Agreement’s progress please read our short briefing (EDF Europe Paris Agreement Briefing). There is no reason to delay and, given we have now set our own targets into law, many good reasons to begin the process as soon as Parliament resumes in September.

You can also read full coverage of the Carbon Budget debate and a transcript of my speech online here.

(Baroness Bryony Worthington was part of the team that helped draft the 2008 Climate Change Act. You can read her biography here.)

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