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.
Climate Inaction: Prime Minister Morrison’s Negligence Sparks Backlash As Bushfires Rage
The smoke blanketing the NSW capital of Sydney has highlighted the severity of the state’s bushfires — and climate inaction isn’t helping.
With the city’s air pollution reaching eleven times the hazardous level, and over 700 homes destroyed in the state, public pressure has mounted on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to link the bushfire emergency and climate change.
The Prime Minister is also facing a barrage of criticism from his ruling party.
NSW Liberal Energy Minister Matt Kean told the Smart Energy Summit that the bushfire tragedy had been foretold by scientists and fire emergency professionals.
In a strong rebuke of his own party’s climate policies, Kean told attendees weather conditions were abnormal. Yet at the same time, climate inaction continues to rage on.
“Not Normal” Weather, Yet No Action Taken By Prime Minister Morrison
“Longer drier periods, resulting in more drought and bushfire,” he said. “If this is not a catalyst for change, then I don’t know what is. This is not normal and doing nothing is not a solution.”
“We need to reduce our carbon emissions immediately, and we need to adapt our practices to deal with this kind of weather becoming the new normal.”
Kean elaborated on his extraordinary broadside on the ABC’s Radio National the next day.
“We’ve got a problem. [The emergency] is not changing my view – before the bushfires, my view was a very strong one… we need to be doing our bit to protect our environment.”
Viral Blog Post Signals Dissatisfaction With Morrison’s Climate Inaction
As well as causing divisions in his own party, Morrison has taken heat from ordinary Australians. It is partially due to climate inaction. But additionally, his refusal to assist volunteer firefighters has struck outrage among Australians.
An example of the outrage was the reaction to a powerful and engaging blog post written by author-educator Meg McGowan. In the post, she criticizes the PM’s statement that volunteer firefighters “want to be there” and therefore wouldn’t receive government assistance.
Meg’s husband Graham King is Deputy Captain in the local Central Coast brigade. He has been fighting fires in the region while making do with poor protective equipment to battle the thick smoke.
Such was the power, elegance, and timing of the article that it went viral with hundreds of thousands of views. This prompted national TV show The Project to ask Meg and Graham to film a segment with them.
Author Meg McGowan Shares That Morrison Adds To List Of Leaders Who Exhibit Climate Action
I asked Meg on behalf of theRising what she thought caused the post’s incredible popularity. Meg conceded that the answer wasn’t straightforward. She added that “Morrison is just the most recent in a long line of leaders that have failed to act”.
“Small changes two decades ago could have had a huge impact by now. The problem is now so severe that we need urgent action on a much larger scale.”
Climate Action Fueled By Governmental Arrogance
She added that people are upset at the government’s arrogance towards firefighters and its inability to enact meaningful climate policies.
“Based on the comments I’m reading his seeming lack of empathy made a lot of people very angry, so I would say it was a major contributor, but you can never really know. It might be that people’s general frustration with the lack of action over climate change was the driver, or their frustrations at [environmental party] The Greens being blamed, or their sudden realization that firefighters are not superheroes but ordinary people doing a tough job,” she told me.
The bushfire crisis will continue as the Bureau of Meteorology predicts more dry weather over the next few months. And climate inaction won’t make that any better.
30 States Cut Their Environmental Budget This Decade. Did Yours?
A new report from the Environmental Integrity Project found that 30 US states have cut their environmental budget since 2008. Another 40 states have also reduced the size of their environmental agency’s staff. These cuts come as a great shock, considering the rising threat of the climate crisis in the past decade. And, with every state that slashes their environmental budget, the consequences sky-rise even more. We encourage you find out if your state is one of the culprits.
The Consequences Of A Reduced Environmental Budget
The consequences of reduced spending on environmental protections seem limitless. These state agencies protect public health, limit the harms of pollution, and even enact pollution control programs. They are vital to the health of both our communities and our planet at large.
And although many states have chosen to limit funding for environmental agencies, the demand for them has only grown. With sea levels on the rise, pollution expanding by the hour, and extreme weather events becoming more and more frequent, environmental protection programs have never been more needed.
Sadly, this trend of reduced funding goes beyond state-wide environmental agencies. In the same decade, Washington cut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency’s work on pollution control and science by 16%. They reduced the EPA’s staff size by 16% as well.
The consequences of inadequate environmental funding go on and on. Understanding these future threats, it becomes even more necessary to know where your state stands.
So without further ado, here are the statistics regarding US environmental agencies between fiscal years 2008 and 2018. (Warning: they’re infuriating.)
The report shows that from 2008 and 2018:
- 31 states cut funding for pollution control programs. In 25 of these states, those cuts amounted to at least 10%. And 16 states imposed cuts above 20%.
- 40 states reduced the workforce of their environmental agency. Of these, 21 states cut their workforce by at least 10%. In 9 states, their environmental agencies lost at least 20% of their workforce.
- Combined, the US lost 4,400 positions at environmental agencies from these budget cuts. (Excluding the 2,700 positions lost at the EPA.)
- Arizona, Delaware, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Texas, and Wisconsin cut the most funding from their environmental agencies.
- In terms of cutting their agency workforce, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, and Tennessee did the most damage.
- 3 states in particular cut far deeper into their funding. Texas cut its agency’s funding by a whopping 35%. North Carolina follows closely with 34% cuts and Illinois trails behind with a still alarming 25%. These states ironically cut environmental funding despite allowing general government spending to grow.
- Alaska and Hawai’i were not included in this report.
It goes without saying that apathy towards the environment plagues the United States’ governmental institutions. What’s worse, this chronic lack of concern for our planet within US politics will have disastrous impacts on the whole globe. It’s time to ensure better environmental policies across the US. A good first step? Starting with your own state.
New Zealand Steps Up To The Plate On Climate Action As Australia Lags Further Behind
Australian progressives have long looked in jealousy across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand on its commitment to climate action. There, New Zealand leads the South Pacific in attempts to resolve these divisive problems. Additionally, NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has become a beacon for progressive government policies. It’s less so in Australia.
There, action on meeting emissions targets has stalled. Also, government support for renewable energy and the protection of the environment have been secondary concerns.
A Stark Contrast In Climate Action Between NZ And Australia
Australia is currently suffering under the worst drought for decades. Moreover, bushfires in a number of states have destroyed property and continue to threaten towns and cities.
In contrast to his NZ counterpart, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has seen criticism for a Trump-style “thoughts and prayers” approach for bushfire victims as opposed to real climate action to reduce the effects of the climate crisis.
This approach has (unsurprisingly) caused anger among some bushfire survivors.
Further, while Australia has seen inaction on the climate emergency, New Zealand has stepped up to the plate. Its government has declared that climate will be central to all future policy decision-making.
Positive Climate Action Sentiments At NZ’s Governmental Level
The New Zealand parliament passed the Zero Carbon Act earlier in the year. Additionally, Environment Minister James Shaw announced that all major decisions made by the Ardern government would keep the climate emergency in mind.
“Cabinet routinely considers the effects of its decisions on human rights, the Treaty of Waitangi, rural communities, the disability community, and gender – now climate change will be a standard part of Cabinet’s decision-making too,” Shaw said in an announcement.
He added that an impact assessment on climate will be central to the government’s decision making.
“A climate impacts assessment will be mandatory for policy and legislative proposals that are designed to reduce emissions, or which are likely to have consequential impacts on greenhouse emissions greater than 250,000 tonnes a year.”
Climate Action Lags In Australia
A roundtable representing a diverse range of groups including environmental organizations, businesses, farmers and unions has warned that a “business as usual” approach to the climate emergency “would have serious economic, environmental and social impacts on Australia.”
The statement coincided with the Madrid climate talks with the Australian Climate Roundtable calling on the federal government to take climate action and adopt policies that would achieve deep reductions in Australia’s net emissions.
“Our overarching aim is for Australia to play its fair part in international efforts to achieve this while maintaining and increasing its prosperity,” said the media statement.
“Achieving this goal will require deep global emissions reductions, with most countries including Australia eventually reducing net greenhouse gas emissions to zero or below.”
Takeaways From The Roundtable
The roundtable believes government policy should be instrumental in achieving change. From the group’s joint principles released in May 2019:
“Policy instruments should: be capable of achieving deep reductions in Australia’s net emissions in line with our overall goal; provide confidence that targeted emissions reductions actually occur; be based on an assessment of the full range of climate risks; be well designed, stable and internationally linked; operate at least cost to the domestic economy while maximizing benefits; and remain efficient as circumstances change and Australia’s emissions reduction goals evolve.”
Australia definitely has the capacity to commit further to climate action, but will it? And how?
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