It’s quite tricky to talk about what the UK is bringing to the table at COP21, as our commitments are tied up with 27 other countries in an INDC which spans the whole EU. The document is brief, yet the EU has never been a more complex place. It’s hard to isolate the UK’s responsibilities within the commitment, never mind understand how they relate to such a tangled web of legislation and geo-political relationships.
Discussing the INDC properly would force us to tackle thorny issues around the nature and strength of the EU itself, its members’ divergent interests, and the tensions between transnational and domestic jurisdiction. And none of this is made any easier by the fact that the document isn’t particularly transparent about exactly how we’re going to do what we say we’re intending to do.
It certainly talks a good game. It makes a commitment to taking action that keeps us below 2 degrees warming. It takes into account 100 per cent of our domestic emissions, aiming for a 40% reduction by 2030 in comparison to 1990. It has the headlines of a comprehensive vision, except that it lacks much clarity or detail.
It completely glosses over land use and forestry, for instance. The INDC says we’ll work out how to address this area as soon as possible – at least before 2020. But when we’re talking about something so closely intertwined with legislation like the Common Agricultural Policy, you can only wish we had a stronger grip on exactly how we’re going to address such a crucial portion of our emissions. It won’t be straightforward.
For reasons like this, it’s hard to gauge the true ambition of the EU’s commitments by looking at the INDC, and so it certainly doesn’t help much with talking about the UK’s role in COP21. But of course, there’s much more to what a country signals to the world than an INDC, especially for a nation like the UK. And sadly, for anyone looking at our domestic approach on climate change at the moment, the UK doesn’t give a strong impression of being a world leader on this agenda.
Sure, we’ve announced a phase out of coal by 2025, but only if we’re able to replace it with gas. We’re missing our renewables targets, and we’ve slashed their subsidies in the latest spending review. To give ourselves some credit, the 2008 Climate Change Act remains a strong piece of legislation. But since getting a Conservative Party majority after our general election in May, the sustainability agenda has collapsed in the UK. We’ve lost a lot of ground since the INDC was published back in March.
What’s clear is that vague promises of the EU’s INDC can only be delivered through genuine, proactive commitment from its member states. For the UK, that means going a lot further than we do today, especially considering our disproportionate role in fuelling the climate crisis, alongside our equally disproportionate ability to act.
We need to see a reversal in our renewables policies and an end to extraction of all fossil fuels – including shale gas. We need to see a shift to 100% renewable energy by 2050. And of course – as vice president of NUS – I certainly want to see our education system shaping leaders who can help the UK and the EU advance the ambitions of COP21 – whatever agreement is reached.
The National Union of Students (NUS) is a confederation of 600 students’ unions in the UK, representing the interests of seven million students. We exist to make students’ voices louder, students’ lives better and students’ futures brighter.