The UK bowed to pressure from the Australian government and agreed to take out climate commitments in a free trade deal, it has been revealed.
The UK-Australia trade deal will not contain binding commitments on reaching climate goals set at the landmark 2015 climate summit in Paris, after Canberra pushed for it to be dropped from the text.
An email leaked to Sky News revealed international trade secretary Liz Truss and business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said they would “drop both of the climate asks” to close a trade deal.
The revelation comes just months before the UK hosts the UN Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow where Boris Johnson is hoping to see a renewed global commitment to lower global emissions.
It also comes as Truss is being tipped for promotion in a reshuffle that could come as early as tomorrow.
The leaked email, from a senior Department for International Trade official, read: “The business secretary has agreed that, in order to get the Australia [free trade agreement] over the line DIT can drop both of the climate aks i.e. on precedence of multilateral environmental agreements over fta provisions and a reference to pairs agreement temperature goals.”
Government officials are now scrambling to point out that the text of the UK-Australia trade deal still refers to the Paris climate agreement and that there is a whole chapter on the environment.
Shadow business secretary Ed Miliband said the government was pursuing trade deals at the expense of the UK’s climate targets.
“With COP26 round the corner, the Government should be flexing every political muscle to ensure the summit is a success,” he said.
“Australia is one of the world’s biggest polluters and key to the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. But rather than piling pressure on them, the Government has simply rolled over.”
Australia’s governing Liberal-National coalition has a long history of climate skepticism and has been reluctant to legislate for more stringent climate goals since coming into power in 2013.
John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said: “If we cannot get a rich country like Australia to take the environment seriously then we are in really really big trouble.”
The trade deal was agreed by Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in June, after the pair met in Downing Street.
The deal was the first negotiated and signed from scratch post-Brexit and saw tariffs removed on Australian agricultural products.
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 1.5 degrees. Any suggestion the deal won’t sign up to these vital commitments is completely untrue.
“The UK’s climate change and environment policies are some of the most ambitious in the world, reflecting our commitment as the first major economy to pass new laws for net zero emissions by 2050.”