Policy brief by Jannike Wachowiak. Originally published by Published by the European Policy Centre
While friction and conflict are likely to feature prominently in the EU-UK relationship for quite some time, both sides continue to share many interests, such as European security, promoting multilateralism, global health and, especially, fighting climate change.
The weight and scale of the climate challenge and alignment of interests make the upcoming UK-hosted COP26 in Glasgow a unique test case for the EU’s and UK’s ability to shape and raise global ambition on climate action jointly. There is also a heightened sense of urgency as the US has re-joined the Paris Agreement while China has pledged to achieve climate neutrality by 2060.
But despite the overwhelming rationale, there are signs that the cooperation is not going as smoothly as it should, with both sides struggling to (fully) insulate climate cooperation from the high-friction context of the overall relationship.
This Policy Brief explores the opportunities and limitations of EU–UK climate cooperation post-Brexit and sees whether the current Brexit deal can be conducive to closer collaboration. It argues that the EU and UK should use the opportunity of COP26 to strategically – and jointly – push for increased global ambition. They have a shared interest in a triumphant COP and persuading other countries, particularly heavy polluters, to follow their climate policies. For this to succeed, both parties must be seen as credible climate leaders who are heading in the same direction and able to show others the way.
The EU should also use its current momentum with the US to mobilise a triangular climate alliance and not leave the UK out of its plans to establish a High-Level Climate Action Group. While they might not see eye to eye on every detail, the three parties broadly want the same when it comes to climate – and an unsuccessful COP would be bad news for all.
Finally, there is a clear need to invest in trust-building. The EU should focus more on the subnational level and promote relations between sub-state actors on both sides, such as devolved administrations, regions and cities, civil society, academia and think tanks.