Despite its claims of climate leadership, in the last six weeks the UK government has laid on a festival of environmental malice for its citizens. Gove, Clark, Perry and co, until now masking the scent of methane and fumes by swimming in a pool of fragrant environmental rhetoric, have revealed their true colours – and green isn’t among them.
Perhaps they’re taking a leaf out of Shell’s book, who last month brought London a 4-day festival of faux-green claims that they’re helping to Make the Future, while simultaneously digging up the fossil fuels that might just break it. Whatever the reason, while Ireland comprehensively votes to become the first country to divest completely from fossil fuels, its neighbour is booking acts that will attract emissions and air pollution in their droves for decades to come.
The first step in not solving a problem like climate breakdown is to make it worse. So with near-term emissions reduction targets lying ahead that we’re already set to miss, the resounding approval of a new runway at Heathrow airport made perfect sense as a headliner.
In the wake of the runway approval the government’s independent climate advisors, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), stressed that aviation emissions cannot rise if the UK is to meet its current 2050 emissions reduction target of 80% - a bar that is likely to be raised by the end of the year. Yet the government’s own figures have aviation CO2 emissions rising 4.9 million tonnes by 2030 if the third runway goes ahead, leaving other sectors needing to step up what will already be steep cuts. A new UN deal will partially offset the projected rise in emissions, but it goes nowhere near far enough to remove Runway 3 from the top of the bill.
Not satisfied with one star act, in a UK first the government gave the go-ahead for Lancashire-based, Cuadrilla-owned boy-oh-boy band The Frackstreet Boys to perform some gaseously good drill rap. In the true spirit of undemocracy, it did so on the last day before MPs go on holiday, having already extended an injunction severely limiting protest powers at the site to 2020, and dropped an attitude survey question on fracking that consistently showed opposition outweighing support. Still not satisfied, government officials held back a report given to ministers way back in 2015 concluding that shale gas extraction increases air pollution, conveniently remembering to release it four days after approving Cuadrilla’s fracking application.
No need to worry if you’re not swooning over the headline acts, for strength was in depth. The government ditched the prog rock-the-boat Swansea tidal lagoon project despite it bringing lower-cost energy than new nuclear projects, and was found to be providing ongoing support for London-based companies using offshore accounts to avoid paying tax on the African fossil fuels they extract. Thanks to government inaction, our plastics waste is drawing record crowds overseas, likely heading for landfill instead of processing plants.
Ministers are still regularly meeting with BP record executives, and the trade department is taking advice from ‘experts’ with links to climate denial networks. Through the Institute of Economic Affairs, one of the UK’s largest think tanks, corporate interests can buy intimate backstage access to senior environmental politicians, to influence the environmental course of Brexit.
The CCC deviated from usually measured language to lambast the transport and housing sectors, telling them that they should be “ashamed” for making precisely zero progress in decarbonising. The government’s response? To release its long-awaited transport-themed album ‘Road to Zero’, which was widely criticised for dragging its heels and ignoring the CCC’s plea to move forward the ban on fossil fuel-powered cars from 2040 to 2030.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy were found not to have bothered to assess the impacts of onshore wind policy changes that led to a 94% decline in planning applications. And while the rights of people to produce, consume, sell and store their own renewable energy were enshrined in EU law last month, the UK has refused to commit – instead actively proposing to stop paying small-scale solar producers for the excess electricity they supply to the grid.
The High Court rounded off a miserably strong line-up by blocking climate litigation charity Plan B’s (no pun intended this time) attempt to hold the government to account over its 2050 emissions reduction target. It sided with the government’s argument that the current 80% goal is compatible with the Paris commitment to limit warming to 1.5C, despite admissions to the contrary by both the CCC and the government itself. Plan B have appealed the decision, as well as adding to the growing number of submitted cases against the government’s proposed Heathrow expansion.
Tenuous festival puns aside, these are seriously worrying developments. Evidence is increasingly suggesting that limiting warming to 2C won’t be enough. At a time when the UK needs to be drastically stepping up its climate ambition, we’re locking in fossil fuel infrastructure and stepping on those fighting for a fair future.
Arguments that Heathrow and fracking operations can comply with emissions targets and air pollution laws are based on wild assumptions that technology will improve come the day the tarmac is laid and the gas is tapped. As a cascade of legal challenges are arguing, these aren’t assumptions we can afford to make.
When the carbon ‘bubble’ bursts, those left with substantial fossil fuel assets are set to lose trillions. If it backs fossil fuel divestment and its growing offshore wind and electric car industries, the UK only stands to gain. The good news is that you have the power to direct the nation’s course.
Those fighting the government in the courtroom rely heavily on crowd funding, so if you are able, please contribute to Plan B and anti-fracking legal costs. Your support to their cause allows those who take a stand to hold the government to account.
If you’re strapped for cash, why not sign petitions against fracking and climate inaction? Or how about supporting the Global Gasdown-Frackdown on October 13, a global day of action against gas and fracking?
Finally, you could go straight to the government and email Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, with the following (or indeed any other) message:
Dear Minister Clark,
It is important that the UK heeds the Climate Change Commission’s advice later this year and strengthens the pledge our country has made to the Paris Agreement. But more than that, your department must introduce short-term policies to achieve both current and future targets as soon as possible.
Reverse the third runway decision, bring forward the 2040 ban on fossil-fuelled cars, and provide public funding to the electric car industry. Restart funding to insulate the UK’s homes, end your support for fracking and our reliance on ‘clean’ gas, and increase rather than freeze subsidy support for renewables. Restart funding to insulate the UK’s homes, and revive the carbon capture and storage projects scrapped in 2015.
There is an immense opportunity before you. Act like the climate leaders you claim to be.
Greg’s email address: [email protected]
Address: Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy, 1 Victoria Street, London SW1H 0ET