Spotlight Activity: UK Policy Makers Take Steps Backwards on Climate Change
The UN’s IPCC released their SR15 report, advising about the necessity of approaching a zero-carbon emissions target by 2040 for a 66% chance of staying within a global temperature rise of 1.5C. Neither Michael Gove (Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), or any member of the UK cabinet was present at the International Summit on Climate Change, which took place days after the report was published. Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas rightly commented, “Gove’s failure to engage with the EU Environment Council tells us everything we need to know about whether they plan to take the urgent action necessary to avoid disaster”.
UK climate scientist, Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, agrees with the IPCC report conclusions. However, he criticised some of the recommendations for “constraining its policy advice to fit neatly within the current economic model”; for not painting an accurate picture of the scale of challenge that we face to decarbonise the energy system and accusing IPCC scientists of trying to appeal to the present political base. Anderson stated that, considering the numbers from the SR15 report, the incremental changes suggested (e.g. small price mechanisms and tweaking the market) are not enough and that the current economic framework cannot support necessary changes. From an economic standpoint, appropriate action calls for a radical revolution in our energy system and policies should be aimed at the wealthier segments of society without impoverishing those who are already struggling within the current economic system.
In reality, something as simple as not outsourcing and privatising a government service like public transport, would allow the government to reclaim the controls over how this service is administered and rather than public services existing for-profit purposes as they do today, they could be an environmental and social investment.
To shed some light on an issue directly relevant to Anderson’s statements: the same week as the IPCC report was released, BP’s chief executive Bob Dudley made claims at the Oil and Money conference in London, advising against selling out of oil and gas investments, warning that this would “threaten energy security and the global economy”. Significant growth in the renewable energy sector was acknowledged by Mr Dudley, followed by scaremongering predictions about the impossibility for renewables to meet energy demands by 2040. BP’s predictions are based on their own consumption projections which differ from thousands of reports from various actors worldwide, none of which seem to agree with each other (according to Consultancy.uk). It’s possible that each of these is attempting to manipulate future consumption trends by releasing data that serves their own market or industry.
Mr Dudley’s statement indicates that there is no will for this company to participate in helping the UK reach emission targets within the new deadline, reason-being, financial losses among the already-wealthy. There was no mention of climate change or reference to environmental concerns. With sufficient government support, financial resource allocation, and strategic policy creation, 22 years would surely be enough time to secure a majority energy provision from renewable and alternative sources but requires fast action and fundamental systemic changes that representatives are too fearful of embracing.
A quick update on previous reports: after a 7-year break, fracking officially recommenced in the UK, on October 15th by Cuadrilla at the Lancashire site. This happened despite local protestors’ best efforts, some of whom have been arrested in response to their on-site resistance. This news, along with August’s announcements about the government awarding new fracking licenses at 27 new locations across the UK speaks for itself in terms of policy makers true position in the environment-versus-economy discussion. It’s a shame that the government remains blind to the true economic potential of alternative energy sources.
Status: Falling Behind
Between the government recommencing fracking, issuing new fracking licences, the lack of attendance at the International Summit on Climate Change, and giving nothing but empty rhetoric, with no legislative results, it is becoming clear that the UK is not keeping up with environmental demands on a policy level. Positive action is left to a small proportion of the population, to act independently. All solutions proposed continue to focus on future developments and little present-day action is being taken to pave way for the implementation of scalable solutions. Technological advancement that can facilitate transitions to zero-carbon living is here and ready to use, so why are UK policies, ministerial actions and economic directives taking us backwards?
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The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP
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