Climate change: 84% of Britons want Theresa May to have a word with Donald Trump

Exclusive: Prime Minister urged to 'use the UK’s special relationship with the US' to convince the climate science-denying president to alter course

Ian Johnston
Environment Correspondent
Thursday 25 May 2017 11:12 BST
US President Donald Trump greets British Prime MinisterTheresa May as she arrives at the White House in Washington DC
US President Donald Trump greets British Prime MinisterTheresa May as she arrives at the White House in Washington DC (Reuters)

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More than eight out of 10 British people want Theresa May should use her influence to persuade Donald Trump to keep the United States within the Paris Agreement on climate change, according to a new poll.

While Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, Emmanuel Macron, the new French President, and other world leaders have made clear the importance of the US remaining part of the world’s efforts to restrict global warming to less than two degrees Celsius, the Prime Minister has been accused of keeping a “pact of silence” with the Republican billionaire.

Ms May will meet Mr Trump at the G7 summit on Sicily on Friday for two days of talks on a range of issues, with the US stance on climate change likely to be high on the agenda.

The survey by pollsters Populus, who contacted more than 2,000 people, found 84 per cent of respondents believed Ms May should “convince Trump not to quit the Paris climate agreement”. Only about five per cent thought she should “definitely not” say something.

Tanya Steele, chief executive of environmental group WWF, which commissioned the poll, said: “The Paris Agreement is a bold and hopeful commitment to protect the environment for future generations – nearly every country on the planet signed to take ambitious action to try and limit the impacts of climate change.

“We urgently need our Prime Minister to use the UK’s special relationship with the US to urge Donald Trump to stand by the agreement and protect our planet for future generations.

“It’s what the UK public wants, and it is what our children and our environment need.”

She said the rapid changes taking place in the Arctic illustrated the pressing need for action.

It was, Ms Steele said, “not only an amazing place with unique and important wildlife like polar bears and bowhead whales” but also played “a crucial role making sure the climate of our planet stays stable”.

“And yet climate change is putting all this under threat,” she added.

“We have now lost the Arctic as we know it in our lifetime and if we continue to emit greenhouse gases at the rate we are now, this will only get worse until we pass a point of no return.”

The G7 countries – the UK, Germany, France, Italy, the US, Canada and Japan – produce about a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions with the US responsible for about 14 per cent, the second highest total for a country, behind China.

Mr Trump, who has laughably described climate change as a hoax perpetrated by China, has pledged to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement and try to reinvigorate the coal industry.

But in recent weeks his final decision on Paris has been twice postponed amid signs of strong support for remaining within the agreement from senior members of his administration.

Prominent climate sceptics have started to display signs of irritation with the US President.

So it is possible that the views of the UK, a country regarded as a key ally by Mr Trump, could potentially swing the balance.

One argument put forward by supporters of staying in the Paris Agreement is that the US would pay a diplomatic price for essentially going back on its word.

WWF pointed to signs that the US was going to leave, such as an executive order was signed by Mr Trump in April which allows drilling for oil in the Arctic – ironically an easier task as global warming has melted so much sea ice.

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The region is expected to be largely free of sea ice in the summer by the 2030s for the first time in about 100,000 years.

New sailing routes are opening up which could cut the travel time from Europe to China and Japan from more than a month to about 20 days.

Ahead of the G7 meeting, Greenpeace has been raising a petition in the hope of persuading Ms May to intervene, which has attracted more than 155,000 signatures, but the Prime Minister has not made her views clear.

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