Another month passes with a similar story to tell for UK climate policy: promises to walk the long and winding road of climate ambition, belied by backwards steps in the real world.
Theresa May publicly unveiled a target to halve energy usage of both new and existing buildings by 2030 – but announced no short-term plans to reverse the vast drop in energy efficiency investment in the last 5 years. Given that the government scrapped plans to make new homes carbon neutral in 2015, a healthy sense of scepticism is being retained by many.
In fact, a key Parliamentary committee report considers this scrappage, along with the effective blocking of onshore wind projects, withdrawal of solar subsidies, and the sale of the Green Investment Bank, as key drivers in a cliff-like 56% drop in clean energy investment last year. The report also warned that the government’s Clean Growth Strategy won’t be enough to meet our climate change targets, even if it delivers on all its promises.
It is perhaps no surprise then that Swansea’s tidal lagoon project is fighting what appears to be a losing battle to stay alive, while backing fracking in the face of sustained public opposition. In the latest push for homegrown gas, the government is attempting to weaken the resolve of local authorities, which have rejected 7 of 8 fracking applications so far this year. It plans to dangle a carrot-shaped £1.6m shale support fund in front of local councils, and consult on whether exploration wells could, like conservatories and fences, be treated as “permitted development” – thus bypassing the planning application process altogether. The government may fall back on the need to reduce reliance on European gas imports as justification, but there is no excuse for backing an emissions-heavy technology with substantial risk of earthquakes over carbon-neutral alternatives.
Meanwhile, the government’s latest air pollution strategy makes no attempt to tackle diesel vehicle emissions, the main source of the toxic air that’s earned the UK a referral to Europe’s highest court. The European Court of Justice has been a crucial backstop in ensuring uptake of EU environmental law. The proposed green watchdog for post-Brexit Britain will however lack the power to take the government to court, and will not enforce matters related to climate change. This toothless replacement, attacked by Lords, MPs and campaigners alike, leaves the UK free to emit without fear of reprimand.
Away from Westminster’s walls, it hasn’t all been bad news. The UK’s biggest power station is piloting a scheme to capture the CO2 from the biomass (wood pellets) it burns, while Scotland has set a new climate target of a 90% reduction by 2050. The goal is still likely incompatible with limiting global warming below dangerous levels, but it’s a step in the right direction from the UK’s 80% target.
Activity Ranking: * Falling behind
Make no mistake: the UK is further along the path to a low-carbon future than many other countries. But it is perfectly poised to be a courageous leader. Instead, it chooses to dawdle and drag its heels. Collectively, the departments determining our climate destiny (Environment, BEIS) have published dozens of consultations and strategies since 2017’s general election, but are yet to enact a single law with significant positive impacts in the short-term. While we make plans for 25 years in the future, seven countries are already running on or near to 100% renewable power. What are we waiting for?
With Cuadrilla applying to commence fracking for the first time at Preston New Road and taking out an injunction against protestors, here are a few important ways you can support the fight against fracking:
Come and support Reclaim the Power’s community resistance against Cuadrilla. Block Around the Clock at Preston New Road, Lancashire, on June 27th – July 1st. UK Youth Climate Coalition will be joining en masse to link arms on June 28th.
If you’re strapped for time but have a bit of spare cash, you can donate to the Frack Free Lancashire Legal Fund. This fund provides much-needed support to frontline activists standing up to fracking.
Or, if you have neither cash nor time, then simply sign this petition to tell Energy Secretary Greg Clark to say no to fracking.
Photo credit: Ed Hawkins. Annual temperatures in central England from 1772-2017, from 7.6°C (dark blue) to 10.8°C (dark red).