The UK wants to work with Ireland on a Green recovery from Covid-19

The need for this increased ambition is surely obvious, but bears repeating

How will you spend this Saturday afternoon? Perhaps battling the wind and rain to do some Christmas shopping on the High Street? Spare a thought, then, for the Taoiseach, the British Prime Minister, UN Secretary-General and many other world leaders, because they’ll also be thinking about the weather - and about you.

On 12 December, the UK, UN and France will be co-hosting the Climate Ambition Summit, in partnership with Chile and Italy, five years to the day from the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Keeping the rise in global temperature ‘well below 2 degrees Celsius was the commitment world leaders agreed in Paris, but a 1.5 degree limit is actually necessary. This sounds limited and obscure, but it’s actually important and urgent - it’s about stopping disastrous floods and droughts, about stopping large parts of earth becoming so hot as to become inhabitable. Not in the distant future, but in the lifetime of children born this Christmas.

In 2020 we have seen the devastating effects of the Coronavirus pandemic on human lives and on our economies and societies. Uncontrolled climate change if allowed to continue would dwarf the pandemic in terms of its disastrous effects. Next November in Glasgow the UK is hosting COP26, the UN climate meeting which is perhaps a last chance for the world to come together and take the big decisions necessary to turn the Paris goals into reality.


The Summit on Saturday is our attempt to stimulate renewed international focus after a year dominated by Covid on this even greater challenge. It will be livestreamed and can be viewed by all. After all, all of us are affected.

Just last week the Prime Minister announced the UK’s own new target for at least 68 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, setting us on the path to net zero by 2050 - cutting our emissions at the fastest rate of any major economy so far.

The need for this increased ambition is surely obvious, but bears repeating. Science shows that we need to decarbonise the global economy three to five times faster over the coming decade than we have over the last two decades. And we need to achieve a similar step-change in building resilience, the capacity of countries, particularly vulnerable ones, to cope with climate change.

The UK wants to work with Ireland on this. Both our governments have committed to a green recovery from Covid and to what Boris Johnson has called “green collar” jobs, showing that clean growth will be the best form of recovery from the pandemic.

Ten years ago it was thought you had to choose between green and growth. Advances in technology mean this is no longer the case. Between 1990 and 2018, the UK reduced emissions by 43 per cent while the economy grew by 75 per cent. Renewable energy sources such as solar and wind are now cheaper than coal in most countries.

Having spent many blustery mornings in my three months here by the Irish Sea and having grown up in the Scottish Borders, I know that one natural resource we share in abundance is wind. Offshore wind is key to the UK’s plan for a green industrial revolution and plays an important part in Ireland’s target to generate 70 per cent of its electricity by renewable means by 2030. Both governments have increased their offshore ambition this year, with the potential to attract billions in investment and create thousands of jobs as a result.

To take forward UK/Irish co-operation, the British Embassy has invited experts from industry, academia and government to a seminar on offshore wind, the first of a series, on 10 and 11 December, partnering with the British Irish Chamber of Commerce. I’m delighted that Eamon Ryan will be one of our key speakers.

Experts from Cork to Cornwall, from Arklow to Aberdeen, from Belfast to the Bristol Channel will share ideas on how to develop this technology and its economic potential. We have some world-leading expertise in offshore wind production and given Ireland’s position as our nearest neighbour, we see big opportunities for UK and Irish businesses.

If our governments and the international community can use the next year to make the right decisions for our planet, our descendants will look back with gratitude and relief 100 years from now.

Paul Johnston is the UK ambassador to Ireland