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Boris Johnson Poses Serious Threat to UK’s Environmental Future

Ari Kelo

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With Boris Johnson stepping in as Prime Minister, the race against the clock to find a Brexit deal is on. The UK has until October 31st to leave the European Union — deal or no deal. But since Johnson might pursue a hard Brexit, the UK may cut all ties with the EU, including its environmental policies. So what exactly does a hard Brexit mean for the UK’s approach to sustainability? And how else will Boris Johnson change the UK’s environmental future?

In Leaving the EU, Boris Johnson Will Also Leave Its Environmental Pacts Behind

As a member of the EU, the UK has signed onto many international environmental agreements. Two of the most significant agreements are the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the 2015 Paris Agreement. When the UK signed the Kyoto Protocol, it pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And under the Paris Agreement, the UK agreed to set its own goals to reduce future emissions. These two agreements encourage countries to work together to fight climate change.

But under Boris Johnson, the UK might withdraw from these agreements. Although a hard Brexit is not guaranteed, it seems imminent. 85% of Boris Johnson’s supporters want a no-deal Brexit, a percentage so high that Johnson probably won’t dare to disobey them. If a hard Brexit happens, the UK will have no trade, political, or environmental agreements with the EU. It won’t even be a part of the European Economic Area. Without any ties to the EU, the UK will have no need to agree to EU politics. So, without the EU forcing the UK to participate in environmental agreements, Johnson and the majority conservative Parliament may choose to withdraw from them.

Why Boris Johnson Will Probably Choose to Withdraw from Environmental Agreements

This possibility of withdrawal seems likely. Johnson is a known ally of US President Donald Trump, who plans to formally withdraw from the Paris Agreement in November. Johnson may choose to follow Trump’s footsteps and abandon these international efforts to fight climate change. To make matters worse, 27% of the Conservative Party that voted for Johnson wants less emphasis on climate change.

Moreover, Johnson’s history in environmental policy is hardly promising. As the UK’s foreign secretary, Johnson “oversaw ‘devastating’ cuts in efforts to tackle the climate crisis … and then wanted to hush them up.” And as Mayor of London, he reduced the “congestion zone” — the area of London you must pay to drive through — which helped limit fuel emissions. His voting record as an MP also shows a lack of concern for environmental protection. In 2016, he voted against requiring the energy industry to plan carbon capture and storage.

He also voted against creating a decarbonization target for the UK. Considering these past actions, it’s more than likely that Boris Johnson’s UK will no longer cooperate with international environmental agreements.

And with the Conservative Party holding a majority in Parliament, environmental action groups like Greenpeace UK and Great British Oceans have very little political influence. Even the elected Green Party holds only a handful of seats in Parliament. Since his opposition has little political power, Boris Johnson has enough free reign to do as he pleases.

The UK’s Environmental Future is Uncertain

The UK’s future for sustainability and environmental protection isn’t all grim. Just last month, the UK signed legislation into law requiring all carbon emissions to hit net zero by 2050.

But this is a pretty hefty task. And by leaving the EU, the consequences of slipping up will become less severe. To complicate achieving this goal even more, Johnson supports deregulation and small government. This raises the question of how the UK will manage to cut its carbon emissions without much governmental support.

To add to this uncertainty, last year Johnson claimed that any Brexit deal — if one were to even happen — should allow the UK the freedom to alter existing standards and legislation. Therefore, even if the UK reaches a Brexit deal, Johnson will insist on having the power to reduce the UK’s environmental standards.

It’s too early to say how the UK will move forward in terms of its environmental policy. But as it approaches multiple political crossroads, time is running out. Once Boris Johnson solidifies Brexit, the British government will have less incentive to cooperate with other countries on environmental fronts. If the UK can force itself to uphold environmental protections without international support, that’d be quite the feat. But the ball is in Boris Johnson’s court, and he may be playing for the other team.

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Pacific allies condemn Australia over its inaction on the climate crisis

Rich Bowden

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Leaders discuss the climate emergency at the Pacific Islands Forum

The Australian delegation’s success at watering down the final communique on climate change at the Pacific Islands Forum last week has united Pacific nations against the regional power. Pacific leaders stated Australia’s pro-fossil fuel strategy at the forum, hosted by the island state of Tuvalu, will have negative consequences for the region’s future.

‘Fierce’ discussions about the climate crisis continue

Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama attacked the Australian strategy in a tweet following the summit: “We came together in a nation [Tuvalu] that risks disappearing to the seas, but unfortunately, we settled for the status quo in our communique. Watered-down climate language has real consequences — like water-logged homes, schools, communities, and ancestral burial grounds.”

Bainimarama described Australia’s behavior towards the other Pacific nations as “very insulting and condescending.”

The Fiji PM was not alone in criticizing Australia’s negotiation strategy, which appeared to be to remove any reference to fossil fuels in the final communique. Vanuatu’s foreign minister Ralph Regenvanu, who was part of the negotiating process, described the discussion as “frank, fierce at times, [with] very strong positions being held.” He added that negotiations nearly broke down due to Australia’s intransigence.

Australia’s refusal to condemn fossil fuels as a major contributor to the climate emergency appeared to be the defining factor in the rancorous debate, according to sources.

Saving nations or the economy?

Speaking at a joint press conference with Australian PM Scott Morrison following the week-long forum, host Tuvalu’s PM Enele Sopoaga, said he told Morrison: “You are concerned about saving your economies, your situation in Australia, I’m concerned about saving my people in Tuvalu and likewise other leaders of small island countries,” he said.

“… we were exchanging flarey language, not swearing, but of course you know, expressing the concerns of leaders and I was very happy with the exchange of ideas, it was frank. Prime Minister Morrison, of course, stated his position and I stated my position and [that of] other leaders: we need to save these people,” he added.

However, the rancor was not limited to the forum. New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern, who said Australia needed to “answer to the Pacific” was on the receiving end of a vicious attack by Australian shock jock Alan Jones who suggested PM Morrison put a sock down the throat of the NZ PM. The derogatory comments drew criticism from Morrison.

Doors open to other regional powers

The Australian government’s lack of empathy for its Pacific neighbors, many of whom face an existential threat from rising sea levels caused by climate change, has opened the door for other countries to build influence in the region, according to commentators. The most active alternative is China which has offered Pacific nations concessional loans to help mitigate the effects of climate change.

Last week’s Pacific Islands Forum is being seen by observers as an opportunity lost by Australia to build confidence amongst its Pacific allies.

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The rise of ecofascism: a new deadly motivation for the far-right

Maddie Blaauw

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From Avengers: Endgame to China’s former one-child policy, concerns about overpopulation negatively affecting the environment are well-known. While the panic incited by the movement has passed, white nationalists and fascists are misapplying it and other environmentalist ideas to support their own violent goals. And by doing so, they’re effectively weakening the real climate activism arguments of those who don’t subscribe to extremist ideologies of ecofascism.

The far-right relates its ecofascist beliefs to environmentalist ideologies

Just look to the national parks. Their unrivaled beauty and serenity stand in stark juxtaposition with the heartless history of the history behind them; thousands of Native Americans were forced from their homes in the belief that they would destroy the land.

Moving forward half a century, the publishing of “The Population Bomb” by Paul R. Ehrlich in 1968 warned of worldwide famine and upheaval caused by overpopulation. It both coincided with and fueled additional anti-immigration sentiment in the late twentieth century. Ehrlich has said that adding to the fire of violence against minorities was not his intention. But nonetheless, his work justified the repression of minority groups worldwide, blaming them for overpopulation.

Also in the second half of the twentieth century, John Tanton, widely regarded as the father of the modern anti-immigration movement, gained a considerable following. Since the founding of the Federation for American Immigration Reform in 1979, Tanton’s ideas inspired many mainstream American conservative beliefs. To support them, he pointed to scarce resources and land in the United States. He reasoned that the country would become heavily polluted and overrun in overpopulation without anti-immigration policy. Tanton often singled out the Latinx community, arguing they should be barred from pursuing a life in the United States. Though the term ecofascism hadn’t been coined back then, this particular idea is deeply ecofascist.

The far-right claims to protect the environment

The most recent of these events was a mass shooting at a Texas Walmart on August 3. The gunman killed 22 and injured 24 others. Just before the attack, a manifesto that used environmentalist views to justify anti-immigration sentiment appeared online. Authorities are working to determine if the document is linked to the suspect. A section reads, with respect to immigrants, “[I]f we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can be more sustainable.”

The manifesto was titled “An Inconvenient Truth”, which may be an allusion to a 2006 climate documentary of the same name by Al Gore. The manifesto also cites the Christchurch shooting as motivation.

In the Christchurch mosque shootings of May 2019, which many extremists have rallied behind, the charged gunman expressed similar sentiments, attempting to justify anti-immigration with climate change activism. He mentions several times in his manifesto that he is an ecofascist.

Ecofascism is an escalating ideology

Politicians on the left maintain that climate policy should focus on solutions, like limiting pollution and utilizing renewable energy. The extreme right, on the other hand, continues to believe that the solution to climate change is to limit immigration.

The Nation journalist Jeet Heer says:

“This combination of a white nationalism with angst about the prospects for human survival is a perfect recipe for radicalizing young right-wingers and taking Trumpian themes to a new level of extremism … The very real dangers of climate change provide race war fantasists the dystopian background they need to give urgency to their violent agenda.”

Really, the far-right subscribes to ecofascism under the guise of climate change reform, and it’s having dangerous consequences.

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With new revisions to the ESA, Trump is putting endangered species at risk

Madeline Barone

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The Endangered Species Act (ESA), signed by President Richard Nixon in 1973, protected endangered species for the last 46 years. The Act also helps conservation partnerships nationwide to protect America’s animals. However, with the newest changes to the ESA, all bets are off for endangered species, as they become more at risk than ever before.

What will these changes do?

These changes will focus on how officials decide whether a species is endangered or threatened, what kind of protections threatened species should receive, and how officials will decide which areas of habitat to protect. 

When implemented, these changes may weaken the Endangered Species Act’s protections. For example, the changes could make it easier to remove species from the endangered and threatened species lists. The wording of the act may also allow the dismissal of climate change as an irrelevant threat to species’ survival. 

Species already listed as threatened or endangered won’t have their protections changed, but for new additions, the FWS rule case-by-case.  These revisions simply reduce protections for any species that get added to the threatened species list in the future. 

How are these changes different than past revisions?

These changes are far from surprising. The Trump administration proposed some of the revisions, specifically removing the phrase “without reference to economic impact” last July. Overall, these changes make it easier for officials to consider economic factors over environmental ones. 

Also, species categorized as “threatened”, a category placed one away from “endangered”, will no longer receive the same protections as species in the “endangered” category. Instead, the Trump administration will carry out protections on a case-by-case basis. 

What are the differing perspectives on the changes?

U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt claims that “the best way to uphold the Endangered Species Act is to do everything we can to ensure it remains effective in achieving its ultimate goal –recovery of our rarest species. The Act’s effectiveness rests on clear, consistent and efficient implementation.” He continued that “an effectively administered Act ensures more resources can go where they will do the most good: on-the-ground conservation.”

Leah Gerber, professor of conservation science and founding director of the Center for Biodiversity Outcomes at Arizona State University, disagrees. “The new rules completely undermine the strength of the ESA,” Gerber told TIME. “The point of the act is to prevent extinction, this is going to do the opposite. It’s going to undermine efforts to recover species.”

It seems that these revisions are simply to fit President Trump’s economic goals. Although rollbacks to the ESA have been implemented since the Act’s founding, these changes could jeopardize species that are already at-risk. 

Thomas Lovejoy, a Senior Fellow of Biodiversity and Environmental Science at the United Nations Foundation, thinks this is a way for the administration to ignore the effects of climate change on species survival. 

“I consider that absurd since it’s an administration that doesn’t believe in climate change,” Lovejoy told TIME. “The impact of climate change and the fingerprints of climate change can be seen in nature wherever you look. It’s really egregious to ignore it.”

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