UK government climate comments under scrutiny
British Prime Minister Liz Truss refuses to levy a windfall tax on oil corporations, even though they have been making record profits in recent months.
Initial remarks by British Prime Minister Liz Truss' conservative government have raised questions about her climate policy in a country that is increasingly feeling the effects of global warming while also experiencing a historic energy crisis.
Faced with rising energy prices, the new premier assumed office in early September and immediately announced a package of measures.
The acceleration of North Sea offshore oil and gas exploitation and the freezing of the moratorium on controversial gas fracking was included.
The United Kingdom halted fracking in 2019 due to concerns that it could cause earthquakes.
Truss has also refused to levy a windfall tax on oil corporations, even though they have been making record profits in recent months.
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The unveiling this week of a measure to reform or repeal hundreds of environmental protection legislation inherited from the European Union by the end of 2023 was the final straw for environmental activists.
"Nature is under attack from a raft of dangerous decisions by Government and we know people are furious at the new threats," said Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts.
"Vital legal protections for wildlife are at risk, fossil fuel extraction is being favored over renewables, and the government is going back on plans to reward farmers for managing land in a nature-friendly way."
The months-long drought in areas of the UK, record high temperatures this summer, and heat-induced fires have all brought the potential effects of global warming home to many British people. The country is one of the pioneers in Europe in tackling climate change.
Through the 2008 Climate Change Act, the United Kingdom became the first country to legally demand reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions.
There was also a rapid transformation in its energy model, with coal representing only 3% of the energy consumed in 2020, compared to 20% in 2013.
The #energy crisis is expected to be further aggravated with winter on the doors, will the #European people bear the consequences of their government’s unconditional support to #Ukraine? pic.twitter.com/c5KHoFHWvk— Al Mayadeen English (@MayadeenEnglish) September 25, 2022
Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised to make the UK the Saudi Arabia of wind power at last year's COP26 climate conference in Scotland, and he announced ambitious climate targets, including the phase-out of petrol and diesel vehicles.
Truss, who succeeded him, has never been perceived as particularly committed to the climate. Her early decisions have confused even her camp.
"The new government must not listen to siren calls to row back on environmental commitments when the solutions to the multiple crises we face, from climate to the cost of living, are complementary," said Chris Skidmore, a Conservative member of parliament and former energy minister.
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In early September, a cross-party group of pro-environment legislators wrote to Truss, urging her to reaffirm her commitment to achieving carbon neutrality.
Truss stated in parliament that she was "completely committed to reaching carbon neutrality by 2050," but she also stated that she had decided to "re-examine" this goal to ensure it was done in a way that was beneficial to the economy and growth.
Her decision to select Jacob Rees-Mogg as her secretary of state for business, energy, and industrial strategy has also fueled concerns about the UK's future climate policies.
'Teetering on the brink'
An opponent of onshore wind power, Rees-Mogg has said he wants his constituents to have cheap energy "rather more than I would like them to have windmills".
He has also warned against "climate alarmism".
Ed Miliband, the main opposition Labour Party's spokesperson on climate change and net zero emissions, called his remarks "dangerous climate denial."
"Putting someone who recently suggested 'every last drop' of oil should be extracted from the North Sea in charge of energy policy is deeply worrying for anyone concerned about the deepening climate emergency, solving the cost-of-living crisis, and keeping our fuel bills down for good," environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth said.
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"Extracting more fossil fuels is a false solution to the energy crisis. It's our failure to end our reliance on gas and oil that's sent energy bills soaring and left us teetering on the brink of catastrophic climate change," it said.
Rees-Mogg's appointment "suggests that the Tories have learned nothing after years of incompetence in energy policy," added Rebecca Newsom of Greenpeace.
Meanwhile, the Labour Party has made the issue of climate change one of its main lines of attack as it approaches the next general election, scheduled for 2025 at the latest.