‘Historic’ COP21 agreement lauded but concern over UK clean stance remains

An agreement of the world’s countries to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century has been lauded internationally, but many have continued to express doubts over the UK’s recent policy decisions.

On Saturday 195 nations at the COP21 summit in Paris reached an agreement, now dubbed the Paris pact, which outlines each country’s commitment to tackle climate change. World leaders have hailed the agreement as historic however the text’s brief nature has been criticised in some quarters.

The agreement includes a commitment to work towards a limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius if collective progress is substantial and after an initial review in 2018, further progress updates will be held every five years to determine whether or not countries are abiding by their own submitted plans.

Countries are expected to update their plans in 2020 and there will also be a legal obligation for countries to make new agreements post-2030 to reflect the maturation of clean technologies. But at just 17 pages in length – down from 27 pages just a few days prior to the agreement being signed – the extent of the agreement has been scrutinised.

Domestically the agreement has been cautiously received. Matthew Spencer, director of the Green Alliance, hailed it as the creation of a “one way street to net zero carbon emissions”.

“It will accelerate the rapid technological change we have already begun to see in our energy system and in the development of the next generation of buildings, cars and household appliances.

“Most importantly we now all move forward together, and the UK no longer needs to fear being out on its own as it decarbonises its economy. Everyone involved in the herculean effort to get this framework in place deserves our thanks,” he said.

Adrian Ramsay, chief executive at the Center for Alternative Technology, was more cautious in his optimism and said the agreement “must rapidly convert its goals into new national pledges” if it is to be considered a success.

“To have a reasonable chance of meeting the 2C goal, all investment in new fossil fuels must be halted now – both coal and fracking. Public funds spent subsidising fossil fuels should be redirected into renewable energy and used to support poorer majority world countries to build the clean energy infrastructure they need,” Ramsay said.

Critics have also attacked the UK’s championing of an agreement despite its poor recent record on clean energy policy. Energy secretary Amber Rudd said the agreement was “vital” for the world’s long-term economic and global security and gave a “clear signal to business to invest in the low carbon transition”.

Rudd too has been appointed by COP21 president Laurent Fabius as one of 14 ‘facilitators’ to help enact the agreement. Rudd, alongside Gambia’s minister of environment Pa Ousman Jarju, will be responsible for the actions of countries pre-2020, excluding finance.

But under Rudd the Department of Energy and Climate Change has enacted a swathe of cuts to support mechanisms, particularly for renewable energy generators such as onshore wind and solar. This week the government is widely expected to announce the results of consultations on both the Renewables Obligation and feed-in tariff frameworks, the outcomes of which could result in a significant slowdown of solar deployment in the UK.

CBI director-general Carolyn Fairbairn said: "While the UK is making its voice heard at global talks, more needs to be done at home…the government must provide a stable environment that enables investment in cleaner, more affordable and more secure energy generation, including renewable technologies and new gas plants.”

Her sentiments were echoed by Friends of the Earth chief executive Craig Bennett who said the UK government would be guilty of “outstanding hypocrisy” unless it enacted a U-turn on energy policy. “Tomorrow morning ministers need to write to our climate change committee asking for advice on how to introduce radical new policies. Clearly George Osborne and others needs to end their love affair with shale gas, diesel farms and trying to expand airport runways,” he said.

Meanwhile Leonie Greene, head of external affairs at the Solar Trade Association, considered whether or not the government had realised the value of backing the domestic solar industry considering its participation in the agreement and the foundation of India prime minister Narendra Modi’s International Solar Alliance.

“Amber Rudd herself has been citing solar power as an example of a technology that can rapidly drop in cost, but that depends on a mass market and effective national policies. Now that Amber Rudd and her team are back in London, the next thing they have to do is decide on feed-in tariffs for solar. Will they go ahead with their proposed extreme cut of up to 87% or will they choose a more gradual, tapered reduction in support consistent with the actual fall in the costs of installed solar?

“The post-Paris world demands accelerated domestic action. The first big decision to be taken in the post-Paris world could set the tone for some time to come. We urge the UK to put its hard work in Paris into practice back in London,” she said.