The “special relationship” between the United States and United Kingdom has shown signs of fragmentation for years; recently, tensions are evident in the two countries’ disagreements about bilateral trade and misalignment regarding the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan. However, Prime Minister Johnson and President Biden share an interest in swift action to address climate change. COP26 presents an opportunity for the UK and US to demonstrate this shared interest, and a series of briefs written by the US-UK Youth Coalition on Climate Policy offers insights along these lines.
The authors produced recommendations for the US and UK at COP26 and beyond, spanning domestic and international policymaking. Across themes of global security, lands and ecosystems, just energy transitions, and youth mental health, these include recommendations for adapting to and mitigating climate change within COP26 negotiations.
To address climate impacts and provide equitable support to the Global South:
- Consider migration as a natural by-product of climate change and, thus, a necessary component of climate adaptation measures
- Identify legal routes of action and protection for internal and external climate-displaced persons
- To supplement climate finance pledges, encourage global wealth redistribution by Global North states through wealth taxes, the elimination of tax havens, and carbon taxes that counteract regressive climate impacts disproportionately harming poorer countries
To reduce greenhouse gas emission by at least 45% by 2030 compared to 2010 levels:
- Prioritize technologically feasible pathways over strategies like carbon capture and storage in decarbonization, while revamping climate models with accurate estimates of the social cost of carbon to replace integrated assessment models
- Form domestic bodies charged with carbon accounting to ensure that offsets used to meet net-zero targets are permanent, sustainable, high quality, and accurate, as Article 6 is negotiated
- Implement a universal reporting system to track progress on current commitments to preserve land, water, and biodiversity while supporting developing countries in their standardized reporting
Beyond COP26, the UK and US should initiate a non-binding bilateral initiative to explore the links between security and climate change with an emphasis on addressing the root causes of environmental degradation. This bilateral initiative should include both technical and policy working groups. Small, non-binding intergovernmental initiatives allow states to engage in candid dialogue and can offer the distinct benefit of being more exploratory than political, insulating them from the turbulent domestic politics that led the United States to withdraw from the Paris agreement.
Discussion topics might include:
- How can the UK and US militaries operate more sustainably? What are the strategic benefits of using biofuels and other renewable energy sources to power modern military operations?
- How can the US Department of Defense and UK Ministry of Defense cooperate to fund research and development on novel technologies that will reduce their militaries’ GHG emissions?
- How can the UK and US militaries expand their efforts to prevent illegal logging and fishing around the world? What are the escalatory risks of using militaries to safeguard the natural world?
To explore the justifications for these recommendations and additional suggestions, visit the US-UK Youth Coalition on Climate Policy website.
Background on the Coalition
The US-UK Youth Coalition on Climate Policy came together in spring of 2020, when a small group of American graduate students sought to pool their collective knowledge ahead of COP26 in Glasgow. Members (all funded by the Marshall Scholarship and spread out across a number of UK universities) held weekly calls to discuss how we might use our geographic proximity to COP to amplify the voices of youth in the US and UK with regard to climate issues. As the weeks passed, the group expanded to encompass over 50 US and UK students and citizens from a variety of academic backgrounds--including scholars of Latin American politics, to students in energy policy, to researchers in particle physics. The diversity in the group’s personal and academic histories afforded us a wider lens with which to view the effects -- both overt and pernicious -- of climate change.
Over the course of several months, the group worked to synthesize our discussions into four thematic policy briefs addressing leaders within the US and UK governments. For each topic, the group provides both short visual summaries of the key issues and longer, text-based documents that offer greater detail.
The coalition will continue its work in the coming years and invites participation from scholars and activists studying in the US and UK. If you are interested in joining our working groups, you can contact the coalition here.