A Year is a Long Time in Environmental Politics

They say a week is a long time in politics. Well how about a year? This week sees the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP22 meeting in Marrakech. The world’s leading environmental organisations, global power brokers and, it must be said, the world’s most polluting corporates coming together again 12 months after every world leader and Head of State from 195 countries converged in Paris last December in a bid to tackle the planetary threats from climate change.

That gathering produced the monumental achievement where collectively they reached a politically, economically and environmentally acceptable accord to limit global temperature rises through decarbonisation. To date, 100 of those 195 countries have now formally joined up to what is known as the Paris Agreement.

Yes, a year is a long time in politics.

Since that historic Accord in Paris last December we’ve had the not insignificant political earthquake that is Brexit. A democratic decision yes, but one of such seismic proportions that six months on from the EU Referendum many ordinary citizens in the UK, let alone pretty much every world leader across the globe, are still struggling to come to terms with the result, let alone understand the complexities of the financial, economic and social ramifications of separation and divorce – many of which are yet to play out or be fully explained.

The value of Sterling is an early casualty that can be laid fairly and squarely at the door of Brexit. The plummeting pound may be good news for exporters, but UK consumers will doubtless feel a more painful pinch come 2017. New Year, new prices as our import-reliant economy passes on the pain.

Another fallout from Brexit of course, is that we now have a UK political scene that is vastly different to that which then Prime Minister David Cameron – who once pledged to lead the “greenest government ever” – presided over as UK signatory to the UN’s COP21 Paris Agreement.

The new British Prime Minister, Teresa May MP, has been all but virtually mute on the issue of climate change throughout her political career. Tentative hopes rose that maybe, just maybe she might be bold enough to out-green Cameron and do a U-turn on the Hinkley Point nuclear power development when one of her first decisions as PM was to call for an immediate review of the world’s most expensive infrastructure project.

Environmentalists, and we in the renewable energy industry held our breath. But no, this lady wasn’t for turning either. Thus, Hinkley Point and its Chinese investors and French energy developers EDF got the nod when parliament returned after the summer recess.

And now Mrs. May is in India, negotiating in secret a post-Brexit trade agreement with a manufacturing nation that, along with the world’s other leading exporter of cheap manufactured goods, China, is a country in significant industrialisation catch up mode.

As a direct result, the citizens of New Delhi are suffering the most choking levels of pollution recorded for decades. But the march of the makers goes on. Just not in the UK. Okay, Sunderland and bits of the West Midlands. But few places elsewhere.

Two of the world’s most rapidly escalating megoloposes, New Delhi and Shanghai are choking and blinding citizens with record-breaking levels of toxic carbon smog as industrialisation escalates and consumer demand for cheap stuff continues unabated.

At home, we, the world’s fifth largest economy, have a government semi-paralysed by post-Brexit aftershocks and which has just committed to what is likely to go down in history as the world’s most expensive mistake.

Commissioning Hinkley Point nuclear power station at a cost of £18billion, at current estimates, and a decade away from turning on the first lightbulb whilst a mature and capable UK renewable energy industry teeters untethered on the abyss is surely not its finest hour post Paris Accord.

But wait, the worst is yet to come.

This morning, UNFCCC delegates at COP22 in Marrakech awoke to the news that the largest superpower in the world is to be led by an inward-focused, unabashed climate change denier.

The people of the United States of America have elected Donald Trump as their President. A man who is arguably the world’s most strident climate change conspiracist.

A man who only this week affirmed he would “renegotiate” the Paris Climate Agreement if elected President.

A man who just two days before US polling day stated: “We’re going to put America first. That includes cancelling $billions in climate change spending for the United Nations.”

Yes, a year is a long time in politics.

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