The head of the Secret Intelligence Service has revealed it is helping to check that industrial nations are “playing fair” when it comes to meeting their climate change commitments.
Richard Moore, who took charge of MI6 in October, said the agency had to play a role in relation to the “climate emergency”, describing it as “the foremost international foreign policy agenda item” for the UK.
In an interview with Times Radio, Mr Moore, known in Whitehall as C, discussed the “complex” nature of relations with China, a country that has “a very different value set” and is the world’s “largest emitter”.
He highlighted the need to balance responding to challenges in Hong Kong and defending academic freedom and the UK’s intellectual property, while also seeking a “positive relationship” with the Chinese.
The MI6 chief said: “It’s really important to both countries that we do, whether it’s trade or whether it’s particularly climate change, because if we don’t co-operate with the Chinese then you are by definition not being able to work with the country whose economy will in the next few years become the largest economy in the world, and it’s certainly the largest emitter.”
He added: “My service’s job I guess is to help with the managing of the threat side and making sure that we defend and protect our interests.
“And it’s, if you like, a sort of assurance, putting an assurance wrapper around the positive side of it.
“Climate change is a good example, where people sign up to commitments on climate change and it’s perhaps our job to make sure that when people sign up to them, that actually what they’re really doing reflects what they’ve signed up to.”
Mr Moore continued: “It’s our job to shine light in places where people might not want it shone.
“And so clearly, we are going to support what is the foremost international foreign policy agenda item for this country, for the planet, which is around the climate emergency and of course we have a role in that space.”
Mr Moore drew a parallel with the issue of “arms control” and the perspective of “trust but verify”, adding: “I guess on climate change or anything like that where you need everyone to come on board and to play fair, then occasionally just to check to make sure they are playing fair is a useful thing to have”.
Asked if MI6 had a person in the field using a device to check on emissions, Mr Moore replied: “I’m loving the image… but I’m not sure that’s quite what we’re doing.”
Mr Moore’s comments come just days after US President Joe Biden warned world leaders that this is the “decisive decade” to avoid the worst of the climate crisis as he outlined targets for the US to halve its emissions by 2030.
On Thursday, he announced a new target to achieve a 50%-52% reduction in emissions from 2005 levels by 2030, as he hosted a virtual summit to galvanise international action to curb rising global temperatures.
The summit also heard from heads of major economies including the UK, China, Brazil, Russia and India, with countries including Japan and Canada announcing more ambitious goals to cut emissions in the next decade.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a “world-leading” target for the UK to cut emissions by 78% on 1990 levels by 2035, which builds on plans to cut pollution by 68% by 2030, the most ambitious among leading economies.