UK Climate Diplomacy Staff Cut Again as Post-Brexit Links to Trump and US Deniers Strengthen

With Donald Trump set to become the President of the United States, the international climate change political scenery has shifted.

The president-elect’s stance on “quitting” the Paris Agreement seems to have softened in recent days. But countries are still going to need strong diplomatic teams to shore-up the global commitment to tackling climate change, reiterated at the Marrakech climate talks last week.

So it’s notable that the UK’s climate diplomacy team appears to weakening.

For the second year in a row, the foreign office reduced the number of people working on climate change and energy, documents released by the government this week under a freedom of information request show.

Currently, just 72 foreign office staff are working on climate issues full time. There are a total of 149 foreign office staff working at least part time on the issue.

That was down from a high of 177 staff  in January 2014, and 159 staff in 2015.

The UK’s official delegation to the international talks was also somewhat depleted this year.

The delegation's most senior figure was climate minister Nick Hurd, with Secretary of State for the department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Greg Clark not making the trip.

This created some official difficulties as Hurd lacked the requisite authority to participate in some forums.

For instance, the UK was not part of a High Ambition Coalition statement signed by 11 figureheads, including ministers from Germany and France, which said:

The Paris Agreement marks a turning point toward a more prosperous and stable world. Acting on climate change is in all of our national interests – it is good for our environment, good for our economies, and good for our climate security. Our commitment to be climate leaders remains steadfast, as is our commitment to work with the whole international community, including the United States, to tackle one of the greatest challenges of our time.”

The apparent reduction of the UK’s status in the talks is concerning as alternative diplomatic ties with the US continue to develop.

As DeSmog UK revealed, Britain’s International Trade Secretary Liam Fox met with US organisations known for spreading denial of climate science, such as the Heritage Foundation, within weeks of his post-Brexit appointment.

And earlier this week, Donald Trump said UKIP MEP Nigel Farage would “do a great job” as UK ambassador to the United States. Trump also reportedly asked Farage to intervene to prevent wind farms being built near his golf course in Scotland.

Farage has been publicly skeptical of the science of climate change, and UKIP has ties with US denier organisations such as the Heartland Foundation and American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

The government quickly rebuffed the idea of Farage being made an ambassador. But Trump’s endorsement of Farage is further evidence of the growing links between UK politicians and US counterparts with a history of climate science denialism in the wake of June’s Brexit decision.

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UPDATE 08/12/2016

It has been revealed that there are now only eight people working on climate change in the foreign office's London headquarters. 

That's another big cut. In 2015, there were 16 people working on climate issues, down from 20 in 2014, and 26 in 2013.

The figures were provided in a written answer to a parliamentary question from Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Northover.

Main image credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr CC BY-SA

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