Behind the rhetoric on climate change action, the government is still under the influence of the oil and gas industry, especially their supporters in aviation and transportation during the coronavirus crisis
Allegra Stratton, the Prime Minister’s spokesperson for the upcoming COP 26 climate change conference, was recently criticized for suggesting that the British public could help tackle the climate crisis through ‘micro-steps’ such as not rinse the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher or putting the bread in the freezer.
Shadow Environmental Secretary Luke Pollard responded scathingly to Stratton’s remarks, observing that “the planet is on fire and we are experiencing a climate and ecological emergency. If the government’s best response is to rinse the dishes, we are in serious trouble. “
Against the backdrop of a series of extreme weather events around the world – including a recent wave of flash flooding in London, which caused disruptions to underground services and inpatient evacuations as well as power outages during major surgeries – such comments not only reflect the lack of urgency at the heart of the UK’s climate response, but a reluctance to examine why the government has yet to make significant progress towards its stated goal of achieving zero net carbon emissions by 2050.
Green Party Assembly member in London, Zack Polanski, acknowledged this, saying: “Flood waters rushing down the steps of Sloane Square station … The government has set itself a target of net zero , but does not support it with real action. “
Reality versus rhetoric
Despite the rhetoric employed by the Prime Minister, recent measures taken by his government suggest that his commitments to decarbonization are illusory.
Ahead of the crucial COP 26 conference in Glasgow in November, the UK has yet to prove itself as a world leader in mitigating the effects of climate change.
For example, in March the government cut the Green Homes Grant, which provided homes with grants of up to £ 10,000 to install insulation, and was expected to create tens of thousands of jobs.
One of the main reasons for the gap between the government’s rhetoric and its actions is the unlimited lobbying power that representatives of the oil and gas industry, in addition to polluting sectors such as aviation and transportation, continue. to exercise over influential British politicians.
Last February, representatives of major oil and gas companies – including ExxonMobil, BP, Shell and Chevron – met with then-UK Commerce Secretary Conor Burns at a private dinner in Texas. According to British Consul General in Houston, Richard Hyde, who wrote a note summarizing the conversation, the energy giants “need the support of governments like ours so that they can be seen as a critical element. from the solution to the future energy supply… There must be greater recognition of the role of gas in the transition ”.
Responding to reports of the conversation, an Exxon spokesperson said oil and gas must “continue to play a critical role in meeting global energy demand.”
Corporate greenwashingAn obstacle on the road to net zero
Advocates of replacing traditional fossil-fueled energy sources with natural gas often refuse to recognize the environmental costs. Although natural gas sources emit less carbon dioxide emissions than coal and petroleum, the methane involved is about 80 times more dangerous for the environment over a 20-year period.
Fracking has been linked to an increase in the amount of methane in the atmosphere – in 2015, it was discovered that the Barnett Shale area in North Texas had released 544,000 tonnes of methane per year, or the equivalent of 46 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Although fossil fuel companies claim to have adopted business strategies that minimize carbon emissions and adapt to a sustainable future, their steadfast opposition to renewable energy sources and the deceptive promotion of harmful technologies indicate that their influence in the political sphere remains stronger than ever.
Bailouts and Subsidies
The influence of lobbying on fossil fuels has become particularly acute in UK politics during the COVID-19 pandemic, as a 2020 report by think tank InfluenceMap found efforts have been made by the aviation industries and transportation to weaken environmental protections and force government bailouts during the crisis.
The research found that in 121 cases of corporate and trade association lobbying over a four-month period starting in March 2020, the oil and gas industry had been “both the most active and the most successful in its business. lobbying interventions to date, with 64% of lobbying engagements fully or mostly successful, and an additional 26% in progress ”. The report also found that “the aviation industry has been equally effective, with 63% of its lobbying engagements being either completely or nearly successful.”
This is not the first time that environmentally damaging industries have received tax breaks, loans or other favorable treatment from an ineffective government for which rhetorical statements asserting the need to fight climate change are more important than concrete actions.
In 2019, documents obtained through an access to information request from Greenpeace Unearthed discovered that, in a private meeting with EasyJet CEO Johan Lundgren, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps agreed that the taxes on airlines meant to discourage carbon emissions were too punitive. His comments drew criticism from former Green Party leader Caroline Lucas, who said: “These disturbing revelations suggest the Transportation Secretary is more concerned about airline profits than the growing risks of devastating damage to airlines. human lives caused by climate degradation. “
Climate Deniers& Big polluterssupport Borisjohnson for a reason
Reducing the power that the fossil fuel industry continues to wield in UK politics will require a bold strategy that includes steps to eliminate subsidies for fossil fuel projects.
Despite the government’s announcement in 2019 that it would stop funding overseas fossil fuel projects, its “development aid” was eventually distributed through the CDC Group, the government development bank that does not is not aligned with the policies proposed by Boris Johnson. It has been estimated that 85% of the electricity distributed with CDC’s investments was produced from fossil fuels, indicating the limits of the government’s current climate change mitigation strategies.
The UK was also one of seven countries that in 2020 pledged to finance a $ 20 billion gas project in Mozambique, which according to in Shadow, Climate Change Minister Matthew Pennycook risked “locking low and middle income countries into high carbon dependency for decades to come.” Minimizing loopholes like these, which facilitate new investments in fossil fuels and have a deleterious impact on global decarbonization initiatives, is crucial for the UK to meet its climate targets.
Despite the UK’s notional commitments to decarbonization by mid-century, the fossil fuel industry continues to influence government policy. If the UK is to be seen as a world leader on environmental issues ahead of COP 26, government actions must match its rhetoric and substantial action must be taken to significantly reduce the influence of fossil fuel lobbyists.
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