Chances of Changes

The results of the UK general election were just coming through the news channels a whole month ago. The aftermath of the surprising result is still ongoing as people...

The results of the UK general election were just coming through the news channels a whole month ago. The aftermath of the surprising result is still ongoing as people both in support of the Conservative Party, and those against it, get to grips with what a majority Conservative government may mean for the UK and elsewhere over the next five years.

There has been much discussion in environmental and policy circles about the implications for the UK’s stance on climate change, especially considering the much discussed critical negotiations occurring in Paris in December. The 21st COP (Conference of the Parties) is often referred to as the ‘last chance’ to come to a binding international agreement on greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions. This time around, countries are required to come to Paris with their targets pre-set, in an attempt to streamline the notoriously slow and painful process associated with international climate negotiations. Thus far, China and the United States have announced a bilateral agreement involving the US committing to a 26-28% GHG reduction below 2005 levels, by 2025, alongside China committing to peak emissions by 2030, and a 20% renewables share of energy generation by 2030. This may be the reason for tentative celebration due to the political influence these two superpowers hold, and the contribution they make (1st and 2nd largest net CO2 contributors) to GHG emissions. It certainly sends a message that these two actors, arguably the two countries with most responsibility and most influence, are taking Paris seriously.

China is often seen to be the leader of the G-77 nations (group of developing countries), which indicates hope for the inclusion of these nations in a global agreement, which have previously been treated as though responsibility is solely held by developed nations. Of course these developing nations have less historical responsibility for emissions, but many are currently developing at unprecedented rates, much to the detriment of the environment. The message sent by China setting out targets in advance of the Paris negotiations may encourage other countries within the G-77 to follow more green-growth paths of development.

If the UK government sends a delegation to Paris which is unwelcoming to proposals such as global carbon pricing, then it would be in danger of becoming isolated from the rest of Europe with its attitude to action on climate change. David Cameron, just after the 2010 election, pledged to lead the ‘greenest government ever’, a claim which anybody would find hard to argue has been fulfilled. The environmental community appeared to have broadly welcomed Amber Rudd being appointed as Minister for Energy and Climate Change following this election, as she previously has been pushed for renewables. Although, this may have been due to the low expectations green campaigners held regarding the future of energy and climate policy in the UK, after climate change barely featured in the run-up to the election. However, the appointment may be another cause for environmental hopes to lift slightly in the build up to Paris, as long as the Minister can garner the support of the Treasury.

A lot of pessimism surrounds the global climate talks year after year, yet Paris somehow feels different. The mainstream media coverage is still largely unoptimistic, but there may be a case for capturing the moments of tentative hope and highlighting them. When media promotes the idea of climate negotiations failing, the smaller (but often important) victories can be overlooked, which appears to have created a culture of low expectations and negativity. Imagine if this was turned on its head, and the successes and surprises were shouted about. This would change not only the public’s perception of the negotiations, but maybe even the governments and other stakeholders’ attitudes. Instead of diluting the targets and aims regarding greenhouse gases through the discussions, the talks may instil a sense of ‘wanting to be the best’, where governments push for stricter targets and faster movement to a society working within the planetary boundaries. Therefore the media should not only report on the Paris negotiations and the build up, but consider what their reporting could mean.

In a similar vein, the UK government needs to be pressed in the months before Paris, because there is hope for a global deal that not only aims for massive carbon reductions in the short and long term, but also does so fairly. Regardless of the sceptical attitudes of several high profile Conservative Party members, the UK should not back down from its previous leadership on climate issues. This would be politically detrimental, both domestically and internationally, and it would of course be environmentally damaging. Everybody is responsible for maintaining the pressure and maintaining the focus on Paris, from now until December, as this will send a message of awareness and sincerity regarding the importance of the Paris talks, but it will also send a message of hope that our governments may respond to this matter on a more human level.

Catherine Graves

Catherine is based in Leeds, in the UK, currently studying for an MSc in Sustainability (Environmental Politics and Policy), after graduating from University College London last year. Her main interests lie around climate change, both the communication of the science and issues of creating effective climate policy. She is also interested in environmental issues broadly, many of which will be affected by climate change, such as water resources and biodiversity loss. She hopes to move into these areas after completing her masters degree.
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