Paris deal should prompt UK energy rethink

The Paris climate agreement is a hugely important step forward, but delivering on its promise will be this century’s greatest engineering challenge

The recent Paris climate talks achieved what many thought was impossible: a meaningful global agreement on curbing emissions and limiting global warming to below 2°C.

Now the really hard work of translating the optimism of the deal into decisive and effective action must begin in earnest.And with no legally enforceable penalties for failing to deliver on the pledges made in Paris the deal’s long-term success is entirely dependent on that rarest of phenomena: governments sticking to their words.

(Credit: Deror avi via Wikimedia Commons)
The success of the deal is now in the hands of politicians (Credit: Deror avi via Wikimedia Commons)

So far, the international response has been positive. US president Barack Obama hailed the agreement as “an enduring framework” that he said will help “solve the climate crisis”; the Chinese government has described it as “an historic march forwards”; whilst here in the UK, energy secretary Amber Rudd said the government is “absolutely committed” to the deal, and pledged to “deliver on it”.

Delivering on the Paris agreement is going to require rapid, unprecedented and fundamental changes to the ways in which we generate and use our energy.

But talk is cheap. And across the world, delivering on the Paris agreement is going to require rapid, unprecedented and fundamental changes to the ways in which we generate and use our energy.

This is particularly true for the UK, where despite David Cameron’s post-Paris claim that the UK leads the world in emissions reduction energy policy appears to be heading in completely the wrong direction.

40 Solar cells
The UK government has proposed huge cuts to feed in tariffs for renewables

Funding for renewables has been scaled back; investment in Carbon Capture and Storage – still regarded by many as an essential stopgap if we’re to continue burning fossils fuels  – has been abandoned; and the appetite to kick-start the UK’s shale gas industry is greater than ever. Indeed, just days after the Paris deal was signed, the Task Force for Shale Gas, provided a tactless reminder of the durability of fossil fuels by calling on the government to “get fracking”.

Now is the time for Rudd, who reportedly played an important role at the Paris talks, to back up her government’s post Paris pledges with a serious rethink on the UK’s energy strategy.

The imminent decision on the future of the feed in tariffs for solar and other renewables – which the government was proposing to cut by 87% – will provide the first clear indication of whether she intends to do this.

The moment countries begin nibbling away at their obligations is the moment it begins to unravel

It’s true that UK emissions are a drop in the ocean. But the actions of this small island still – just about – carry some weight on the world stage. And a swift and ambitious reaction to the Paris agreement that positions the UK at the forefront of global change would strengthen the deal and strengthen the economy.

Each of the 196 signatories to the agreement has a responsibility to solidify the spirit of the Paris agreement and build on the current wave of optimism. The moment countries begin nibbling away at their obligations is the moment it begins to unravel.