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An Election Approaches but a Crisis Remains



‘A fire has started in the theatre, from which there are no exits. Unchecked, the fire will kill and injure many in the theatre, starting with those in the cheapest seats. Many people can smell the smoke, but some others have not noticed it yet. Some people are trying to warn everyone so that the fire can be contained before it spreads out of control. Another group – sitting mainly in the most expensive seats – is trying to shout loudly that there is no fire, or that it is not serious, or that there is plenty of time left to put it out.’  

Catriona Mckinnon (2019). ‘Climate Crimes Must be Brought to Justice’, The UNESCO Courier: The Ethical Challenges of Climate Change. 


The threat of climate change is clear. Few in power will publicly deny the existence of climate change. But the failure of governments in richer industrialised countries, having contributed most to the climate crisis, to commit to climate actions that reflect this greater responsibility, constitutes a form of climate denialism. It is the kind of denialism and delay that we cannot afford as we continue to see record-breaking weather extremes and climate events – the effects of which are particularly acute in the Global South and most heavily felt by marginalised and migratised communities everywhere. From tropical cyclones in Madagascar, Mozambique and Malawi to drought in the greater Horn of Africa, climate tragedies are driving displacement, food insecurity and exposure to disease. Climate change is occurring in an unequal world where the threats, burdens and resources to become climate resilient are not fairly and equitably shared.  


In the UK, investment towards strong and decisive climate action remains insufficient. As one of the world’s largest producers of oil, gas and coal, the UK government is not fulfilling its fair share of responsibilities towards tackling the climate crisis. Analysis by Greenpeace of data from the International Energy Agency (IEA) shows that the UK ranked the lowest in green spending among comparative European economies between April 2020 and April 2023. This includes spending on electricity networks, energy efficiency, innovation in fuels and technology and low-carbon transport. The most recent Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) also reflects a decline in the UK’s climate performance and ambitions.  


Already, we have seen the UK government row back on stronger climate policies. In September last year, the Conservatives announced several U-turns, delaying both the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and phaseout of gas boiler sales and scrapping plans to improve the energy efficiency of rental homes – upgrades that could have amounted to a £24 billion in savings on energy bills by 2030. This was followed by Labour abandoning their £28 billion green investment pledge earlier this year in February.  


Government plans to grant hundreds of new North Sea oil and gas licenses are yet another step backwards. Among these projects is Rosebank, the UK’s largest undeveloped oil and gas field, which has already been approved for drilling by Norwegian oil giant Equinor and Israeli-owned Ithaca Energy. With around 80% of the extracted oil to be refined overseas and sold on global markets, improvements to the UK’s energy security and independence will be minimal. Moreover, the majority of the development costs will be covered by the UK public in the form of a £3.75 billion subsidy. Burning all of Rosebank’s 300 million plus barrels of oil and gas would produce CO2 emissions worth the combined annual emissions of around 90 countries and 400 million people. The environmental impact of this is severe and incompatible with the UK’s legally binding commitments to reach Net Zero by 2050.  


Delaying and weakening vital climate commitments deepens our dependence on fossil fuels, worsening the climate crisis and making us more vulnerable to the costs of imported gas. This is prolonging the cost-of-living crisis as more households are pushed into fuel poverty. Currently, around 6 million households are fuel poor. These are households that are having to spend more than 10% of their disposable income on energy and who increasingly resort to self-rationing measures that include making sacrificial cuts or self-disconnecting from their heating entirely. This places the health and wellbeing of millions at risk as they face living in cold, damp and mouldy homes. This is not inevitable. Charities and groups such as End Fuel Poverty, National Energy Action (NEA) and Warm This Winter advocate for emergency financial support and long-term solutions around energy efficiency, including home insulation, and a transition towards a renewables-led energy system.  


With a general election in near sight, this is an opportunity to emphasise the changes that we need to see happen regardless of the party that comes into power. We cannot afford to open up any more oil and gas fields or expand production. Government plans to fully exploit North Sea oil and gas reserves, despite mounting criticism, shows that greater collective efforts to address the climate crisis are needed at all levels of society. 


Jennifer Wat

Environmental Strategy Intern


References: 

  1. Drought and food insecurity in the greater Horn of Africa (no date) World Health Organization. World Health Organization. Available at: https://www.who.int/emergencies/situations/drought-food-insecurity-greater-horn-of-africa#:~:text=This%20content%20was%20last%20updated,part%2C%20the%20war%20in%20Ukraine. (Accessed: 20 May 2024).  McCarthy, A

  2. (2024) Labour’s £28 billion green spending promise – what it is and why it matters, Greenpeace UK. Available at: https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/news/what-is-labours-28-billion-green-spending-promise/ (Accessed: 20 May 2024). 

  3. UK – Climate Performance Ranking 2024: Climate Change Performance Index (2023) Climate Change Performance Index | The Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) is a scoring system designed to enhance transparency in international climate politics. Available at: https://ccpi.org/country/gbr/ (Accessed: 20 May 2024). 

  4. Staff, C. B. (2023) In-depth Q&A: What do Rishi Sunak’s U-turns mean for UK climate policy?, Carbon Brief. Available at: https://www.carbonbrief.org/in-depth-qa-what-do-rishi-sunaks-u-turns-mean-for-uk-climate-policy/#:~:text=In%20another%20major%20policy%20U,for%20these%20mostly%20rural%20properties. (Accessed: 20 May 2024). 

  5. Citizens Advice responds to the latest government announcement on Net Zero policies (2023) Citizens Advice. Available at: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/citizens-advice-responds-to-the-latest-government-announcement-on-net-zero-policies/#:~:text=Upgrading%20Great%20Britain’s%20inefficient%20homes,those%20in%20better%20insulated%20homes. (Accessed: 21 May 2024). 

  6. McCarthy, A. (2024) Labour’s £28 billion green spending promise – what it is and why it matters, Greenpeace UK. Available at: https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/news/what-is-labours-28-billion-green-spending-promise/ (Accessed: 20 May 2024). 

  7. Kirka, D. (2023) UK to grant hundreds of new oil and gas licenses, ignoring calls from environmentalists, AP News. AP News. Available at: https://apnews.com/article/oil-gas-exploration-climate-change-8afb6d13ebf12503cf63b2fabb4c7f89 (Accessed: 21 May 2024). 

  8. UK planning to launch watered down net zero strategy in oil capital Aberdeen (2023) The Guardian. Guardian News and Media. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/mar/24/uk-government-launch-revamped-net-zero-strategy-oil-gas-capital-aberdeen (Accessed: 21 May 2024). 

  9. Gelmini, S. (2023) Rosebank shows oil giants are the real winners from Sunak’s climate rollbacks, Greenpeace UK. Available at: https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/news/rosebank-shows-oil-giants-are-the-real-winners-from-sunaks-climate-rollbacks/ (Accessed: 20 May 2024).  

  10. What is fuel poverty? (2024) National Energy Action (NEA). Available at: https://www.nea.org.uk/what-is-fuel poverty/?_gl=1%2Auz702t%2A_up%2AMQ..%2A_ga%2AMzU3MTI5MjQuMTcxNjkxMjA3MQ..%2A_ga_VGRVTFGMVL%2AMTcxNjkxMjA3MS4xLjEuMTcxNjkxMjIyOS4wLjAuMA.. (Accessed: 22 May 2024).



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