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Paul Johnston

Ambassador to Ireland

Part of UK in Sweden

31st May 2013


During Sweden’s EU 2009 Presidency, the Union tried hard to lead international efforts to get a global climate change deal, culminating at the Copenhagen summit.

It’s time to redouble our efforts and level of ambition as we look ahead to the Paris negotiations in 2015.

As the climate talks in Durban in 2011 showed definitively, when negotiating with super-economies like China, India and the United States, we are far better off negotiating as a European bloc.

Why? Because together we represent 504 million people and 25% of the world’s GDP.

In 2008, the EU led the world in tackling climate change by agreeing binding emissions reductions targets up to 2020.

That has had results already.

Emissions are down by over 17%.

The European market for low carbon environmental goods and services grew by 3.5% to £740 billion in 2010/11 alone.

Now we need to move on to the next phase of agreements in Europe – to 2030 and beyond.

And we need to recognise the context has changed.

In 2007 when the EU negotiations on targets for 2020 were taking place almost no EU Member State had established climate policies; most renewables technologies were immature; and we were at the peak of an economic boom.

Now renewable technology is maturing and other technologies like Carbon Capture and Storage and new nuclear are set to contribute to the low-carbon mix over the coming years. We are in a different economic environment, to put it mildly. Our planet may be warming, but Europe is feeling the chill of the eurozone crisis.

So the UK will be arguing two things in the coming negotiations over the EU’s position for 2030.

First, the EU should adopt an ambitious emissions reduction target for 2030 of 50% cuts on 1990 levels as part of Europe’s approach to the getting a global deal in 2015.

And even if such a global deal doesn’t come about, the EU should aim for a unilateral 40% reduction. These targets are achievable, affordable and necessary if we are to limit climate change.

Second, we need a technology neutral approach to how individual countries meet their emissions targets. We want to maintain flexibility for Member States in the exact energy mix they use. The UK is committed to increasing renewables in our own domestic energy mix. We are trebling the available government support, to £7.6bn.

But we should recognise that there are a variety of options to decarbonise any country’s energy: from energy efficiency to new nuclear; from carbon capture and storage to renewable heat.

Countries should be free to pick the mix they prefer. In the UK, our electricity market reforms will rely on the market and competition to determine the low-carbon electricity mix. So we are legislating to set a technology-neutral decarbonisation target for our power sector.

We will therefore argue that a specific renewable energy target at an EU level, as opposed to an ambitious overall emissions reductions goal, is inflexible and unnecessary.

We must keep our eyes on the prize: a binding global deal to reduce carbon emissions and limit climate change to manageable levels. That is why an ambitious emissions target for the EU is vital.


Paul Johnston

Follow me on twitter: @hmapauljohnston

About Paul Johnston

Paul Johnston joined the UK Civil Service in 1990, working for the Ministry of Defence initially. He has served in Paris and New York and has also had a wide…

Paul Johnston joined the UK Civil Service in 1990, working for the Ministry of Defence initially.

He has served in Paris and New York and has also had a wide range of political and security roles in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. Paul joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1993 as Desk Officer for Bosnia. As part of this role he was also Private Secretary to EU negotiator Lord Owen and his representative on Bosnia Contact Group.

His first foreign posting was to Paris in 1995-99 as Second Secretary Political. He was Private Secretary to the Ambassador and latterly part of the UK delegation to the Kosovo Rambouillet negotiations. Then he returned to London as Head of the Kosovo Policy Team, leading work on post-conflict policy in the EU, NATO, UN and G8.

Before his second overseas posting to New York in 2005, Paul held a variety of other EU policy and security appointments in London, such as Head of European Defence Section between 2000-01 and Head of Security Policy Department between 2002-04.

As Head of the Political Section in UKMIS New York, he advised on major policy issues for the UK on the Security Council and the UN World Summit, including the UK EU Presidency in 2005.

Paul returned to London in 2008 as Director, International Security for the FCO. He was responsible for policy on UN, NATO, European Security, arms control and disarmament, human rights and good governance.

Paul was British Ambassador to Sweden from August 2011 to August 2015 and then was Deputy Permanent Representative to NATO.

He was UK Ambassador to the EU for Political and Security affairs from 2017 to January 2020 and became Ambassador to Ireland in September 2020.