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Fin McCarron: Next PM must continue UK's climate leadership abroad

Fin McCarron (International Programme Manager at CEN)

The UK has always punched above its weight. Whether in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine or the world-leading vaccine development to turn the tide against coronavirus, the UK is rightly recognised as one of the most influential countries in the world.

Our exit from the European Union gave us an opportunity to re-establish ourselves on the world-stage with full control of international trade and domestic policies for the first time in decades. With the G7 and COP presidencies, the UK took centre-stage, helping to shape the global efforts to rebuild after the pandemic and fight climate change. The next prime minister will take charge as we finish writing the first chapter of UK’s post-EU history.

Nowhere is our global leadership more evident than on climate. COP26 in November last year led to a climate agreement that was only possible due to the UK government’s hard work, under the presidency of cabinet minister Alok Sharma. Other important deals decided at COP26, like the deforestation agreement,

wouldn’t have been possible without UK leadership from ministers like Zac Goldsmith. But that isn’t all we’ve done. The UK has, on average, become richer while cutting emissions faster than any other nation in the G7. British research in climate technology, such as hydrogen research, is amongst the best in the world, and we have dedicated £11.6 billion to climate finance over the next five years. This leadership benefits us just as much as it does millions of people in other countries.

Firstly, as the recent heatwave has shown, the UK is not immune to the effects of climate change. Climate change doesn’t respect borders and so every tonne of carbon saved in other countries will directly help mitigate the worst effects of climate change right here in the UK. Extreme weather also disproportionately affects the poorest in the UK, who are more likely to live in poorly insulated housing stock which uses more energy to heat and cool. Mitigating climate change would help the cost of living right here in the UK. Even if our leadership candidates were entirely focused on the cost of living crisis, it would be in their interest to continue championing the climate on the global stage by encouraging more ambitious climate policies and giving poorer countries the resources to fight climate change themselves.

Secondly, our global climate leadership provides us with considerable soft power. Our success in cutting emissions makes us a trusted global authority on the environment, and our dedication to the climate is greatly appreciated in countries on the frontline of climate change effects; including many Commonwealth countries like Bangladesh, Fiji and Jamaica. Any backsliding in our global climate commitments will be seen as turning our backs on these countries.

Soft power does have concrete benefits for the UK as well. It helps us to attract foreign direct investment, leads to more favourable trade deals and attracts tourism. It also allows us to share broader UK values such as democracy, freedom, and equality of opportunity. Pushing these countries away would risk pushing them into the arms of authoritarian states. Capitalising on this soft power will allow us to boost economic growth and set us up for decades to come through more favourable trade deals.

We should continue to be global leaders on climate change because it is the right thing to do, and is something we should be proud of. I look forward to Sunak and Truss setting out their platforms more fully in the coming weeks, particularly regarding their foreign policy. We should be proud of our global climate leadership to date and be excited about what more we can do.


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