Climate Obstructionism Runs Deep in the UK — Watch Out for It at the Election

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Original article by Freddie Daley and Peter Newell republished from DeSmog.

Credit: Lindsay Grime.

Regardless of who wins next month, fossil fuel interests have multiple levers for influencing policy.

The UK is heading to the polls on July 4. Although it doesn’t get enough attention, the two major parties — the Conservatives and Labour — have chosen climate change and, in particular, fossil fuel production in the North Sea as a clear political dividing line for the electorate. 

As polling day draws closer, and election fervour takes hold, we will see the forces of British climate obstruction in full effect. Influential individuals, organisations and media outlets that seek to block, dilute, delay, or even reverse climate policies will attempt to widen that political dividing line with a mixture of claims to be defending individual freedoms, putting growth first, being ‘climate realists’, or by displacing concerns about the UK’s responsibility to act on climate change through ‘whataboutism’.

The Conservative government, under Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, has pushed ahead with issuing hundreds of new oil and gas licences in the North Sea. The government was due to further reform the licensing regime so permits are handed out on an annual basis, all under the auspices of ‘energy security’, but the election has halted the bill’s progress through Parliament. Future licences are expected to yield just three weeks’ worth of gas per year

Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party, however, announced that it will end new licensing for oil and gas in the North Sea, with the very large caveat of honouring those already approved. But even this announcement ignited fierce resistance from the media, trade unions, Labour’s political opponents and some figures it deemed allies. The plan was labelled as “Thatcher on steroids”“naive”, and risked “creating a cliff-edge” for industry and investment in and around the North Sea. In response to the vitriol, Starmer conceded that fossil fuels will continue to be used in the UK “for many, many years”.  

This episode provides a useful insight into how climate obstructionism operates in the UK. In a new publication for the Climate Social Science Network (CSSN) based at Brown University, alongside Dr Ruth McKie and Dr James Painter, we identified three major channels through which obstructionism operates in Britain and the network of organisations that sustain it. 

Financial Power

The first is the material. This speaks to the financial and structural power of the fossil fuel industry that allows it to use threats of capital flight and job losses to curry favourable policy conditions and fend off tax hikes that would dent profitability. It also speaks to party donations, where fossil fuel firms, or those that benefit from their expansion, provide funds to individual politicians or the wider party for access and a say over policy. 

Since 2019, the Conservatives have received £8.4 million in donations from big polluters and those with direct links to fossil fuel production. The current Energy Security and Net Zero Secretary, Claire Coutinho, accepted a £2,000 donation in January 2024 from Lord Michael Hintze, a funder of the UK’s leading climate science denial group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation. Labour too have taken money from big polluters, most notably Drax, whose North Yorkshire power plant is the UK’s single largest source of emissions.

Alongside the material sits the institutional. The policy making process in the UK provides a multitude of opportunities for actors to shape policy, all within the bounds of proper procedure and due process. All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs), informal groups of politicians organised around key themes or policy issues, have provided an effective fora for obstructionist actors to garner access and shape policy. The rules governing APPGs often inhibit public scrutiny. Trade associations, and the companies they represent, can be omitted from official parliamentary transparency logs as only benefits in kind above £1,500 a year must be declared — a threshold many industry bodies claim not to meet. 

Revolving doors between industry and government are another institutional means through which fossil fuel interests can determine policy. An investigation by The Ferret found that since 2011, 127 former oil and gas employees have gone into top government roles and been appointed to ministerial advisory boards. At least a dozen of these individuals were given roles in the North Sea Transition Authority, the organisation tasked with governing oil and gas production, as well as within departments responsible for writing energy and climate policy. Shutting this revolving door, or even just slowing it down through ‘cool-off’ periods, would go some way in curtailing obstructionism. 

Climate Delay

The final, and perhaps most pronounced, thread of climate obstructionism in the UK is discursive, primarily promoted through the media. The right-leaning media in the UK, such as the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail, have persistently opposed climate policy and action. This opposition used to be grounded in outright denial, where the integrity of climate science was disputed and denigrated. Now, though, a more pernicious form of discursive obstructionism is prevalent; that of climate delay. 

Countless op-eds and articles have been published that acknowledge climate change but dispute the necessity of addressing it, the cost of implementing climate policy (both economically and in terms of national security), and the efficacy of green technologies such as wind turbines, electric vehicles (EVs) and heat pumps. These interventions, which are sometimes made by individuals with direct links to sceptic organisations or else use their framing, often push blatant untruths to the public, such as renewable energy pushing up household energy bills or solar panels  jeopardising British farming. The media continues to both demonise climate activists and undermine public support for key climate policies. 

In this election, watch out for climate obstructionism. While institutional channels may be curtailed due to purdah, others will pick up the slack. With all parties now firmly on an election footing, donations will become a crucial resource for knocking doors and getting out the vote in marginal seats. The sources of these donations, and the interests behind them, will bear the thumbprint of the fossil fuel industry. The media will increase its scrutiny of manifesto pledges and publish a litany of analyses. It is highly likely that Labour’s climate policy will be painted as a threat to national security, an insurmountable cost to the public purse, and reflecting the demands of both Vladimir Putin and Just Stop Oil simultaneously. The foundation of this framing has already been set. 

What is less clear, though, is what comes after July 4. With a change of government comes a reconfiguration of interests and, for the winners, concessions will be made to those actors and constituencies that helped get them past the post. For the losing party, most likely to be the Conservatives, there may be an ideological reorientation that ends the cross-party consensus on tackling climate breakdown, making them the party of climate obstructionism that challenges the necessity of net zero and fights for more oil and gas. 

This election might be the one that ends 14 years of Conservative rule, but it’s not likely to be the one to end climate obstructionism in the UK.  

Freddie Daley is a Research Associate at the Centre for Global Political Economy at the University of Sussex.

Peter Newell is a Professor of International Relations at the University of Sussex.

They are the authors of a chapter in Climate Obstructionism across Europe, a new collection of essays analysing the organisations, politicians, think tanks and media outlets seeking to delay, derail and denigrate climate policy, produced by the Climate Social Science Network.

Original article by Freddie Daley and Peter Newell republished from DeSmog.

dizzy: I don’t agree that there is “cross-party consensus on tackling climate breakdown.” I suggest that instead the Conservative and Labour parties are indistinguishable in their support of plutocracy, sucking up to the rich and powerful. The Conservatives under Sunak have made no pretence of their intention to forge ahead with exploiting North Sea fossil fuels all they can and Labour do not intend to stop the Rosebank North Sea oil and gas field. Starmer has abandoned so many pledges that he should be recognised as as much a liar as Tony Blair or Boris Johnson.

The title of “… the party of climate obstructionism that challenges the necessity of net zero and fights for more oil and gas. ” is currently shared by the Conservatives and climate denier Nigel Farage’s Reform UK.

Rishi Sunak on stopping Rosebank says that any chancellor can stop his huge 91% subsidy to build Rosebank, that Keir Starmer is as bad as him for sucking up to Murdoch and other plutocrats and that we (the plebs) need to get organised to elect MPs that will stop Rosebank.
Rishi Sunak on stopping Rosebank says that any chancellor can stop his huge 91% subsidy to build Rosebank, that Keir Starmer is as bad as him for sucking up to Murdoch and other plutocrats and that we (the plebs) need to get organised to elect MPs that will stop Rosebank.

Continue ReadingClimate Obstructionism Runs Deep in the UK — Watch Out for It at the Election

Intense downpours in the UK will increase due to climate change – new study

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A flash flood in London in October 2019.
D MacDonald/Shutterstock

Elizabeth Kendon, University of Bristol

In July 2021, Kew in London experienced a month’s rain in just three hours. Across the city, tube lines were suspended and stations closed as London experienced its wettest day in decades and flash floods broke out. Just under two weeks later, it happened again: intense downpours led to widespread disruption, including the flooding of two London hospitals.

Colleagues and I have created a new set of 100-year climate projections to more accurately assess the likelihood of heavy rain downpours like these over the coming years and decades. The short answer is climate change means these extreme downpours will happen more often in the UK – and be even more intense.

To generate these projections, we used the Met Office operational weather forecast model, but run on long climate timescales. This provided very detailed climate projections – for every 2.2km grid box over the UK, for every hour, for 100 years from 1981 to 2080. These are much more detailed than traditional climate projections and needed to be run as a series of 20-year simulations that were then stitched together. Even on the Met Office supercomputer, these still took about six months to run.

We ran 12 such 100-year projections. We are not interested in the weather on a given day but rather how the occurrence of local weather extremes varies year by year. By starting the model runs in the past, it is also possible to verify the output against observations to assess the model’s performance.

At this level of detail – the “k-scale” – it is possible to more accurately assess how the most extreme downpours will change. This is because k-scale simulations better represent the small-scale atmospheric processes, such as convection, that can lead to destructive flash flooding.

The fire service attending to a vehicle stuck in floodwater.
Flash flooding can be destructive.
Ceri Breeze/Shutterstock

More emissions, more rain

Our results are now published in Nature Communications. We found that under a high emissions scenario downpours in the UK exceeding 20mm per hour could be four times as frequent by the year 2080 compared with the 1980s. This level of rainfall can potentially produce serious damage through flash flooding, with thresholds like 20mm/hr used by planners to estimate the risk of flooding when water overwhelms the usual drainage channels. Previous less detailed climate models project a much lower increase of around two and a half times over the same period.

We note that these changes are assuming that greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at current rates. This is therefore a plausible but upper estimate. If global carbon emissions follow a lower emissions scenario, extreme rain will still increase in the UK – though at a slower rate. However, the changes are not inevitable, and if we emit less carbon in the coming decades, extreme downpours will be less frequent.

The increases are significantly greater in certain regions. For example, extreme rainfall in north-west Scotland could be almost ten times more common, while it’s closer to three times more frequent in the south of the UK. The greater future increases in the number of extreme rainfall events in the higher resolution model compared with more traditional lower resolution climate models shows the importance of having k-scale projections to enable society to adapt to climate change.

As the atmosphere warms, it can hold more moisture, at a rate of 7% more moisture for every degree of warming. On a simple level, this explains why in many regions of the world projections show an increase in precipitation as a consequence of human-induced climate change. This new study has shown that, in the UK, the intensity of downpours could increase by about 5% in the south and up to about 15% in the north for every degree of regional warming.

Group of girls with an umbrella walking through a city.
The projected increase in the intensity of rainfall is significantly greater in certain regions.

However, it is far from a simple picture of more extreme events, decade by decade, as a steadily increasing trend. Instead, we expect periods of rapid change – with records being broken, some by a considerable margin – and periods when there is a pause, with no new records set.

This is simply a reflection of the complex interplay between natural variability and the underlying climate change signal. An analogy for this is waves coming up a beach on an incoming tide. The tide is the long-term rising trend, but there are periods when there are larger waves, followed by lulls.

Despite the underlying trend, the time between record-breaking events at the local scale can be surprisingly long – even several decades.

Our research marks the first time that such a high-resolution data set has spanned over a century. As well as being a valuable asset for planners and policymakers to prepare for the future, it can also be used by climate attribution scientists to examine current extreme rainfall events to see how much more likely they will have been because of human greenhouse gas emissions. The research highlights the importance of meeting carbon emissions targets and also planning for increasingly prevalent extreme rainfall events, which to varying degrees of intensity, look highly likely in all greenhouse gas emissions scenarios.

The tendency for extreme years to cluster poses challenges for communities trying to adapt to intense downpours and risks infrastructure being unprepared, since climate information based on several decades of past observations may not be representative of the following decades.

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Elizabeth Kendon, Professor of Climate Science, University of Bristol

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Continue ReadingIntense downpours in the UK will increase due to climate change – new study

Green Party calls for a UK ban on private jets

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The Green Party has called for a ban on all private jets taking off or landing at UK airports. They say this form of transportation, favoured by a super-rich elite, is the ultimate symbol of ‘climate inequality’ where the richest 1% of the population produce as much planet warming pollution each year as 5 billion people making up the poorest two-thirds of the global population.

Image of the Green Party's Carla Denyer on BBC Question Time.
Image of the Green Party’s Carla Denyer on BBC Question Time.

Co-leader of the Green Party, Carla Denyer, said: 

“As the COP28 climate conference gets under way this week, governments can no longer ignore the very large elephant in the room – that it is a super-rich elite who are super-heating the planet.  

“Private jets are the favoured form of transport by this super-rich elite and are the ultimate symbol of the ‘climate inequality’ that is not only leading to the breakdown of our climate but is also deeply unfair. A short trip on a private jet will produce more carbon than the average person emits all year.   

“The Green Party wants the UK government to challenge the grotesque inequality driving climate breakdown. By pledging to impose a ban on all private jets taking off or landing at UK airports, the government would send a clear message to global leaders at COP28 that the super-rich cannot be allowed to continue with their lavish and destructive lifestyles at the expense of the rest of the global population.  

“The Green Party also wants to see the introduction of a carbon tax which would target the biggest polluters, and a wealth tax on the super-rich. Oxfam has calculated that taxing the world’s richest 1% fairly would cut carbon emissions equivalent to more than the total emissions of the UK. 

“While the richest can use their vast wealth to cocoon themselves, the poorest have nowhere to hide from the impacts of climate chaos. COP28 needs to ensure those with the greatest responsibility for the climate crisis end their destructive ways. And we must redistribute the price paid by the heaviest polluters towards helping those on the front line of climate breakdown and to hasten the transition to a fairer, greener world.” 

Continue ReadingGreen Party calls for a UK ban on private jets

Memo to England and Wales Green party

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It’s very easy to despair at you despite being supportive. Please stop being so nice and instead try to get some some serious political clout to save the planet. Be practical instead of nice and accomodating. So with those split roles, split them so you have X addressing these issues Y addressing these issues … got it?

The sort of pitch to take. Make speeches with catchphrases to grab the headlines. You could discuss desperate times needing something actions, votes wasted on the 2 main parties because their policies are indistinguishable, climate deniers and destroyers, denying and destroying the planet … get the idea?

Announce looking into electoral pacts – those desperate times again. FFS get as many MPs elected as you possibly can – desperate times.

Continue ReadingMemo to England and Wales Green party

Rishi Sunak condemned for announcing 100 new oil and gas licences amid climate emergency

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Image of InBedWithBigOil by Not Here To Be Liked + Hex Prints from Just Stop Oil's You May Find Yourself... art auction. Rishi Sunak, Fossil Fuels and Rupert Murdoch appear.
Image of InBedWithBigOil by Not Here To Be Liked + Hex Prints from Just Stop Oil’s You May Find Yourself… art auction. Rishi Sunak, Fossil Fuels and Rupert Murdoch appear.

‘Climate change is already battering the planet with unprecedented wildfires and heatwaves across the globe.’

The Prime Minister has today been condemned by opposition politicians as well as environmental groups after announcing the approval of about 100 new North Sea oil and gas licences amid a climate emergency.

Sunak, who says he’s committed to net zero, made the announcement during a visit to Aberdeenshire, arguing that the move would help the UK reach its target of meeting net zero by 2050.

It also draws a sharp dividing line with the Labour Party which has said that it will block new oil and gas developments in Britain if it wins power, saying it would focus instead on investments in renewable sources such as wind and nuclear power.

Sunak’s announcement comes at a time when the UN General Secretary is warning that the era of global warming has ended and “the era of global boiling has arrived”, after scientists confirmed July was on track to be the world’s hottest month on record and with heat waves causing wildfires in Europe’s Mediterranean region, Sunak seems totally divorced from reality with his latest announcement.

Reacting to the Prime Minister’s announcement of new oil and gas licences, Friends of the Earth’s head of policy, Mike Childs, said: “Rishi Sunak’s energy security drive should focus on energy efficiency and the UK’s vast home-grown renewable resources, rather than championing more costly and dirty fossil fuels.

“Climate change is already battering the planet with unprecedented wildfires and heatwaves across the globe. Granting hundreds of new oil and gas licences will simply pour more fuel on the flames, while doing nothing for energy security as these fossil fuels will be sold on international markets and not reserved for UK use.”

Continue ReadingRishi Sunak condemned for announcing 100 new oil and gas licences amid climate emergency