The Road to Paris: UK Energy Policy in the Age of Global Warming

The so-called Paris Earth Summit has been characterised as a great success, bringing together over 190 nations all apparently willing to buy-in to the notion of global warming and committed to working together to prevent global temperatures rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This apparent consensus does, however, mask certain areas of tension which will inevitably place increasing strain on the determination of the world’s leaders to systematically bear down on carbon emissions and pursue a carbon free future. Although President Obama, eager to add some lustre to his second term of office, has apparently fully committed the USA to the process of carbon reduction, it remains to be seen whether future presidents will see things in quite the same way. Monitoring and compliance will remain an issue and the problem of coal will bulk very large indeed. Coal, literally the driving force of the first industrial revolution, remains an essential source of energy for many industrial and industrialising nations. However, it is also a major source of pollution. It may be that the UK is willing to ‘set an example’ and abandon coal but then, in global terms, the UK cannot have a major impact on the level of global warming. It is however likely that the UK’s determination to comply with the ‘spirit of Paris’ will have a major impact on the UK’s energy policy or at least its future direction of travel – quite possibly to the detriment of the UK’s economic prospects. This article traces the background to the UK’s energy policy and assesses likely future developments in the light of the Paris agreement.

Dr John Sheldrake, GPI Policy Paper, December 21, 2015


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The Global Policy Institute is a research institute on international affairs. It is based in the City of London, and draws on both a rich pool of international thinkers, academics as well as policy and business professionals. The Institute gives non-partisan guidance to policymakers and decision takers in business, government, and NGOs.