LONDON (AFP) - Greenpeace has accused the British government of lying to the public after leaked emails seen by the environmental group appeared to show backtracking on climate commitments to secure a trade deal with Australia.
In the correspondence, Greenpeace UK on Wednesday (Sept 8) said senior ministers Liz Truss, David Frost and Kwasi Kwarteng "are named as agreeing to ditch references to the temperature commitments in the Paris Agreement on climate in order to get the Australian trade deal 'over the line'".
In response, the government insisted it "will not sign trade deals that compromise our high environmental protections".
Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote to environmental NGOs promising that any deal with Australia would "include a chapter on trade and environment which not only reaffirms commitments to multilateral environmental agreements, including the Paris Agreement, but also commits both parties to collaborate on climate and environmental issues".
But Greenpeace said "details from the leaked email demonstrate that what Boris Johnson wrote in that letter was a lie".
"The reality of the government's plans to bulldoze over the Paris Agreement temperature commitments... completely undermines trust in the government as host of the upcoming UN climate summit, COP26," it added.
'Caving in to Australia'
The 12-day event is due to be held in Glasgow in November, and is seen as a crucial step in global action to set new emissions targets to prevent runaway climate change.
Australia, however, has refused to adopt a net-zero emissions target and remains one of the world's largest fossil fuel exporters.
The UK government maintained that all the deals it was pursuing "have committed to securing provisions that will help trade in low carbon goods and services, support research and development, innovation in green sectors, and maintain our right to regulate in pursuit of decarbonisation".
While not directly addressing the climate claims, Australia's trade minister Dan Tehan said the free trade agreement with the UK would "include commitments relating to a number of environment issues".
"Australia has remained consistent that all our FTAs should focus on international co-operation and meeting existing multilateral environment commitments," he said in a statement.
Tehan added that the two nations have agreed to work together on emissions reduction research and development in areas such as clean hydrogen, small modular reactors, and carbon capture technologies.
Britain in June unveiled the major free trade agreement with Australia, after similar deals with Japan and the European Union following London's divorce with Brussels.
The deal eliminates tariffs on British exports to Australia and on imported Australian goods such as wine, swimwear and confectionery goods.
But John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said the deal had come at an environmental cost.
"The UK government caving in to Australia over the climate just adds to a list of issues over this trade deal particularly when it comes to food and farming," he said.
"Australia still uses hormone growth promoters banned in the UK in 1998. It continues to use 20 pesticides no longer in use here, including highly toxic neonicotinoids, which are extremely harmful to bees and other pollinators."
"No food should be imported using methods that are banned in the UK," he added.