UK's May must help Trump see the light on climate change

UK's May must help Trump see the light on climate change
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More than 100 researchers are urging British Prime Minister Theresa May to challenge President Donald Trump about his “policy of inaction” on climate change when they meet on Friday in the U.K. 

The letter to Theresa May by 135 members of the U.K.’s climate change research community, including me, warns that Trump’s efforts to undermine domestic and international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions pose a risk to British lives and livelihoods. 


Some British commentators have suggested that it would be better for the prime minister not to raise issues like climate change that may upset Trump and damage the chances of a fantastic new deal on trade after the U.K. leaves the European Union in March 2019.


However, the letter calls for May to take advantage of the special relationship between the U.K. and the United States to raise the issue of climate change, instead of trying to appease Trump on the issue. 

It draws attention to the  "National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review," published by the U.K. government in November 2015, which identified climate change as a major driver of global risk, threatening stability overseas and the U.K.’s long-term security.

The U.K. is already experiencing the direct impacts of climate change. Its nine warmest years on record and six of its seven wettest years have all occurred from 2000 onwards. The risks of extreme events, including coastal and inland flooding and heatwaves, are increasing.

The United States is still the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China, and the latest figures published by the Energy Information Administration indicate that its annual output of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels will increase next year after declining during Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaThe Memo: Trump grows weak as clock ticks down How Obama can win back millions of Trump voters for Biden Biden taps Obama alums for high-level campaign positions: report MORE’s presidency.

Trump has ignored the advice of experts in the United States, such as the Global Change Research Program and the National Academy of Sciences, and his administration has attempted to roll back measures to cut emissions.

He has also sought to prevent American families and businesses from learning the truth about climate change by trying to gag federally-funded scientists and censoring information on government websites. Trump continues to treat climate change as if it were a hoax.

But President TrumpDonald John Trump Trump responds to calls to tear down monuments with creation of 'National Garden' of statues Trump: Children are taught in school to 'hate their own country' Trump accuses those tearing down statues of wanting to 'overthrow the American Revolution' MORE has also sought to weaken international action on climate change, indicating that the United States will withdraw from the Paris Agreement in 2020. Last month, he refused to take part in a discussion about climate change at the summit of Group of Seven leaders in Charlevoix, Canada. 

Trump has also attempted to stop all financial support for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and, with the help of Congress, he has halted contributions to the Green Climate Fund, which supports poor countries in their efforts to cut emissions and to make themselves more resilient to the impacts of climate change, including shifts in extreme weather events and sea-level rise.

By contrast, Theresa May can continue to demonstrate British leadership on this issue. 

It was another Conservative British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, who was the first world leader to warn the United Nations General Assembly of the risks of climate change. The U.K. was the first country in 2008 to pass a law, with strong support across the political spectrum, creating legally-binding targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

And as prime minister, Theresa May has pledged her continued support for the U.K. Climate Change Act and personally endorsed her government’s Clean Growth Strategy, which aims to maintain Britain’s record of tackling climate change while growing its economy.

The latest figures show that between 1990 and 2016, the U.K. decreased its annual emissions of greenhouse gases by 41 percent, while its real gross domestic product per capita, a measure of average national wealth, increased by 46 percent.

By comparison, the GDP per capita of the United States only grew by 44 percent over the same period, and its annual emissions climbed by 2.4 percent.

Hence, Theresa May can demonstrate to Trump that action on climate change does not have to damage the economy.

But most of all, the prime minister must argue that decision-making about climate change should be based on the best available evidence. Policymakers, including leaders, should draw on the findings of the global climate research community and take account of the risks it poses across the world and to future generations.

Climate change should not be treated as if it were just as an issue of partisan domestic politics.

Bob Ward is policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science.