Under the Climate Change Act (2008), every five years the UK government must compile and publish “its assessment of the risks and opportunities arising for the UK from climate change” [1]. The first of these reports was compiled in 2012 and the latest was published on the 18th January to extraordinarily little fanfare on the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) website, with the only media coverage seeming to come from the Independent newspaper, which accused the government of trying to ‘bury’ the report [2].

The report highlights some sixty risks and opportunities, including six denoted as “top … areas of inter-related climate change risks for the United Kingdom” with two of these identified as “high risk”:

  1. Flooding and coastal change risks to communities, businesses and infrastructure” and

  2. Risks to health, well-being and productivity from high temperatures”.

These alarmingly include possibilities of food and water shortages and a dramatic increase in heatwave related deaths on the timescale of 30 years from now.

While it is welcome that this report recognises the seriousness of climate change in the relatively short-term, it is extremely worrying that DEFRA only published the report on its website and there was no attempt made by either DEFRA nor the Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom to publicise or even comment on these stark findings.

It is important to recognise that the supposed burying of this report is a deeply worrying sign, especially in a country where only 43% of people believe that climate change is mainly caused by human activity [4]. The scientific evidence that climate change poses significant risks to human health and wellbeing in the near-term is growing and the government has failed to face up to this challenge in a number of ways. In 2016 Theresa May absorbed the Department of Energy and Climate Change into the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in a move widely criticised by academics, NGOs, thinktanks and activists [3]. Furthermore, government policy such as funding cuts to the solar energy and onshore wind industry, as well as recently proposed tax hikes on solar panels and are acting to stifle and possibly unravel the progress made in this key area of sustainable energy [5,6,7].

Climate change is a scientific fact that the UK government seems quite happy to ignore. This is not rational and must be challenged at all levels of society, especially by lobbying MPs to oppose further changes in our renewable energy policy.

Policy Hurdles and Vested Interests

Indeed, it can now be argued that policy is the only remaining barrier to society being globally powered by 100% renewable energy in the near-future. Research published as far back as 2011 by Jacobson and Delucchi (of Stanford University and University of California, Davis) already argued that we could replace all of our global energy needs with just wind, water and solar power by 2050 [8]. The tumbling price of new installation of solar and wind power (which is now cheaper than all traditional fossil fuels [9]) provides further evidence that the obstacles in the way of a renewable powered future are not technical or economic, but purely political.

The policy landscape is, indeed, currently very hostile to the renewable energy transition that science says we need in order to avoid catastrophic warming. It is a landscape in which major oil and gas companies such as Shell and BP still enjoy huge support from government in the form of subsidies to the tune of £6bn per year [10]. This irrational maintenance of the status quo by both government and industry should be seen as nothing more than an ideological and profit-driven war on renewables, and one in which the large players are willing to fight dirty. One such example is in Florida, where utility companies and groups funded by the Koch brothers have shown a united front in impeding the uptake of solar energy in a state with the “third-best rooftop solar potential in America” [11]. This included a misinformation campaign that sought to portray an amendment to the state’s constitution as an opportunity to expand solar provision in the state when in reality it would have meant that utility companies could charge solar consumers extra fees and thus discourage its uptake. The amendment was thankfully defeated in a referendum [12,13] but highlights how corporate interests will continue to fight against rational energy policy if they believe it will impact their profits.

Keeping up the pressure

Such vested interests have large political influence and can draw on large amounts of capital to retain their energy market share. This makes it vitally important that we fight for and improve upon what little legislation is in place to help increase the uptake of renewable energy. On this front, there are several campaigns we encourage you to get involved and help support, including:

  1. Greenpeace UK have organised a campaign opposing the afore-mentioned UK government’s proposed tax-hike on solar panels. You can sign their petition at http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/blog/climate/new-petition-government-must-urgently-rethink-plans-hike-taxes-uk-solar-20161215,

  1. 10:10 have a year long campaign called “Blown Away” which aims to pressure the government to retain its support of clean, onshore wind energy by reversing its decision to get rid of subsidies. You can sign the petition at https://1010uk.org/blownaway/,

  1. The global divestment movement, which has had staggering successes and currently has caused over $5tn to be divested from fossil fuels globally. More information is on the 350.org site here https://350.org/category/topic/divestment/. You can also contact public sector organisations in your area and ask them to divest from fossil fuels, like this campaign to make Manchester City Council’s pension fund divest form fossil fuels https://www.foe.co.uk/act/demand-greater-manchester-divests-from-fossil-fuels.

You can also directly contact your MP and ensure that they support renewable energy, speak up in parliament against the current Conservative governments slash and burn approach to renewable energy subsidies, and tell them to speak out against the astronomical subsidies paid to dirty fossil fuel companies like BP and Shell using taxpayer’s money. You can also place pressure on them to make changes in your local community, such as better cycling infrastructure or improvements in and easier access to public transport services. More ideas on how to help push your local community towards more sustainable practices can be found at the Transition Network’s website (https://transitionnetwork.org/) . This is a global network of grassroots groups that organise small-scale projects on food, transport, education, housing, arts and energy to help accelerate the transition to a world run on clean energy.

Climate science experts agree that humanity has entered ‘Decade Zero’, our last real time-window to take substantive action to prevent catastrophic global warming [14]. With Donald Trump and his proposed cabinet of anti-science and climate change denying oil barons and corporatists taking control of the American government, it is more important than ever that we maintain the pressure on the UK government to respect and respond to the outcomes of scientific investigations into global warming, which state that we must act now to avert disaster.

Article by @ElectricWeegie


[1] 2017 UK Climate Change Risk Assessment, 2017, Committee on Climate Change. Accessed on 23/1/2017 at https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/UK-CCRA-2017-Synthesis-Report-Committee-on-Climate-Change.pdf .

[2] “Government ‘tried to bury’ its own alarming report on climate change”, Independent, 23/1/2017. http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change-risk-assessment-global-warming-government-accused-burying-report-a7540726.html

[3] “Climate change department closed by Theresa May in ‘plain stupid’ and ‘deeply worrying’ move”, Independent, 14/7/2016. http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change-department-killed-off-by-theresa-may-in-plain-stupid-and-deeply-worrying-move-a7137166.html

[4] Department of Energy and Climate Change Public Attitudes Tracker, Wave 17, Summary of Key Findings (based on survey of 2,105 people), April 2016, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/519488/PAT_Wave_17_Summary_of_key_findings.pdf

[5] “Solar subsidy cuts lead to loss of 12,000 jobs”

[6] “Big business calls on government to halt solar tax hike”

[7]“Tories to end onshore windfarm subsidies in 2016”, 18/6/2015, Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jun/18/tories-end-onshore-windfarm-subsidies-2016

[8] Mark Z. Jacobson & Mark A. Delucchi, “Providing all global energy with wind, water and solar power, Part I: Technologies, energy resources, quantities and areas of infrastructure and materials”, Energy Policy 29 (2011) 1154-1169.

[9] “Solar and wind power cheaper than fossil fuels for the first time”, 4/1/2017, Independent, http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/solar-and-wind-power-cheaper-than-fossil-fuels-for-the-first-time-a7509251.html

[10] “UK Government ‘pays £6bn a year in subsidies to fossil fuel industry”, 12/11/2017, Independent, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/uk-government-pays-6bn-a-year-in-subsidies-to-fossil-fuel-industry-a6730946.html

[11] “The Koch Brothers’ Dirty War on Solar Power”, Rolling Stone, 11/2/2016, http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-koch-brothers-dirty-war-on-solar-power-20160211

[12] “Why it’s so hard to get solar in Florida (that’d be the sunshine state)”, Wired, 6/10/2016, https://www.wired.com/2016/10/florida-sunshine-state-hard-get-solar-energy/,

[13] “Florida voters reject misleading referendum that sought to tax solar energy”, Salon, 9/11/2016, http://www.salon.com/2016/11/09/florida-voters-reject-misleading-referendum-that-sought-to-tax-solar-energy/ ,

[14] “Fossil fuel divestment funds double to $5tn in a year”, 12/12/2016, Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/dec/12/fossil-fuel-divestment-funds-double-5tn-in-a-year

[15] “Decade Zero: Demanding Rapid and Bold Action to Address the Root Causes of Climate Change”, Friends of The Earth International, October 2016. http://www.foei.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/08-FoEI-decade-zero-ENG-lr.pdf

Is the Government Burying the Facts on Climate Change ?

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