UK will ratify Paris climate change deal this year, says PM

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It has been an inauspicious start to life as British Prime Minister for Theresa May. Beholden to her "Brexit means Brexit" words uttered on day one of her tenure, May has embraced her image as a no-nonsense, tough negotiator with gusto – and often to her and her party’s detriment.

By proving unwieldy on matters pertaining to not only Brexit but the controversial decision to greenlight the Hinkley Point nuclear plant, May’s certitude has won friends and enemies alike.

And having seen the U.K. sign up to the Paris Agreement last December while British home secretary, the PM has at least stuck to her guns and announced this week that the U.K. will honor its pledge and will ratify the agreement this year.

Speaking at her maiden address to the UN in New York, May said that the U.K. remained determined to "play our part in the international effort against climate change… in a demonstration of our commitment to the agreement reached in Paris, the U.K. will start its domestic procedures to enable ratification of the Paris agreement and complete these before the end of the year," May said.

Despite much of British ministers’ time in recent months being taken up by planning for Brexit, the U.K. will take on emissions reductions based on an EU-wide agreement to share the burden of the Paris talks.

Having disbanded the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) soon after coming to office, May got off on the wrong foot with the U.K.’s green energy sector. However, her words in New York are likely to be welcomed by the industry – whether or not her hands were tied by international pressure to follow in the footsteps of the U.S. and China, who both ratified the Paris Agreement earlier this month.

According to an official government spokesperson, however, May’s announcement was "absolutely a reflection of her commitment to delivering on that international agreement where the U.K. has been at the forefront of efforts".

The European Union is not expected to ratify the agreement this year, but that does not stop individual members – such as the U.K. and France – from ratifying separately.

"The government is determined to tackle climate change to help create a safer and more prosperous future for us all," said Greg Clarke, secretary of state for business, and who heads up the department that replaced the work of DECC. "That is why we are starting the process of ratifying the landmark climate deal signed in Paris."

Among environmentalists, there was predictable frustration at the government’s lack of alacrity, however. "This signal is a welcome moment of clarity amid the all-pervading Brexit uncertainty,” said Greenpeace director John Sauven, "but it could have come with a much speedier timetable."

Labour MP and shadow energy and climate change secretary Barry Gardiner added: "I’m glad that May has – at last – recognized the need for the U.K. to remain a responsible global player on this crucial issue by setting a firm deadline to ratify the Paris climate agreement by the end of this year."

Among business leaders, the move has been seen as a positively clear signal to companies to invest in the U.K. Much of the criticism levelled at government over the past 18 months has revolved around the seeming lack of a coherent energy plan – particularly in relation to its muddled stance on solar.