Climate x Politics: March 2020


("too long didn't read" - a summary for people with no time to spare)

The UK Budget focuses on economic growth, and includes some token environmental policies.
Heathrow 3rd runway ruled illegal by the court of appeal.
Bill advocating more holistic long term policy making introduced to The House of Lords.
Covid-19 has mixed implications for the Climate Crisis.
Trump tries to use public money to support struggling oil companies.

The UK Budget

On 12 March 2020 Chancellor Rishi Sunak published the Budget.

Notable positive policies:

Spending on R&D in energy doubled to £1billion.
Proposal to use taxes to control emissions, hinting at the possibility of wider reforms later in the year.
Support for Carbon Capture, representing a change in the previous position of this government.
Investment in flood defences. Peatland restoration investment (falls short of Net Zero goals). Increase electric vehicle roll out. Low carbon heating.

There is a running theme of putting policies in the context of the 2050 Net Zero target.

Many scientists, environmental organisations, and others will consider this target inadequate even if the policies to achieve it were forthcoming.

Other policies are not in alignment with positive climate action:

Freeze of Heavy Goods Vehicle VED and Levy
Largest ever investment in Motorways and A roads in an effort to tackle congestion. This is claimed to be in alignment with “Growing a Greener Economy”.
Aim of being an “Exporting Superpower”
Celebration of corporation tax remaining at 19%
Continuation of the switch from coal to gas is framed as a positive climate action.
Constant focus on GDP growth and “booting the economy”.


The budget contained a full section of policies called “Growing a Greener Economy”. Each of these will likely have some positive impact on the climate. However, they appeared more as accessories designed to give the impression that the government is doing something, rather than actually contribute meaningfully towards the problem at hand.

This budget fails to acknowledge what is required to effectively tackle climate change. The theme is one of GDP growth with “green” policies included as an afterthought. If climate change is to be effectively mitigated, then it needs to be included as a primary concern in all major decision making, rather than as a token afterthought.

Read more:

BBC New Scientist The CCC Full Budget

Heathrow 3rd runway ruled illegal by the court of appeal

Plans for a third runway ruled illegal because ministers did not adequately take account of the government's commitments to tackle the climate crisis.

Boris Johnson was already a strong critic, insisting that any expansion would be industry led.

This is the first major ruling in the world to be based on the Paris Climate Agreement. It is now clear that the ability of governments to claim commitments and simultaneously take actions that contradict it is being limited. This sets a precedent for how environmentally problematic policies may be challenged in the future.

This has been used to call for governments to put climate at the centre of all big decisions, rather than treating it as an isolated issue. Something that the recent budget failed to do.

Read More

The Future Generations Bill

This is a private members bill that has been introduced to the House of Lords. The Bill takes a systematic approach to enshrining long term thinking into policy making.

Key Proposals of the Bill:

Companies of specific sizes will be required to report on how their core activities impact the UK’s wellbeing goals.
The establishment of a joint committee in Parliament to examine prospective legislature from a long-term perspective. This build of a similar scheme is already in place in Finland.
Public bodies will be required to focus on increasing preventative spending.
A legal enforcement mechanism will ensure these changes are taken seriously.

The bill builds on growing international concern that short-termism in policy making is leading to suboptimal outcomes, this is especially relevant to matters of climate change and the environment.

There have also been shifts towards measuring societal success on the basis of wellbeing, living standards, and environmental outcomes, rather than just GDP growth. This bill would help our society to embrace these changes in outlook and fit them into decision making processes.

It is this kind of change in systemic processes that is vital for climate action to be effective. We must embrace such positive changes, and attempt to spread support for them, forcing those who refuse to engage with such ideas out of political relevance. ReadMore

Mixed Implications of Covid -19 for the climate crisis

The decrease in economic activity due to attempts to prevent Covid-19 spreading has resulted in decreased emissions of greenhouse gasses. However, the economic slowdown may undermine investment in clean energy, and distract public and political attention from the climate crisis. Markets for electric vehicles and solar panels are both expected to experience slow downs.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) is urging policy makers to scrap fossil fuel subsidies and use them to support healthcare systems as they experience increased demand.

The stimulus packages being proposed to counteract economic slow downs are an opportunity to accelerate the green transformations required in economies to mitigate against the climate crisis.

At this time we must be careful about seeing too many benefits in the Covid-19 outbreak. However, important lessons can be learned about public response to acute crisis, large scale changes in public behaviour, and instilling ideas in the public consciousness, all of which are relevant to motivating action against climate change, and dealing with its consequences.

Covid19 has shown that when both politicians and the public truly believe in a risk, then they are willing to take drastic measures to avoid it. It may be possible to use this demonstration that transformations in policy/ behaviour are possible, to gain support for climate action in the near future. Also noteworthy is the ability of some people/ institutions to continue to focus on abstract metrics like GDP and “boosting the economy” when lives are very obviously at stake.

Read More

Trump attempts to use public money to bail out oil companies

The trump administration has considered providing aid to oil companies struggling due to a low oil price. Three routes have been considered: buying oil for the strategic reserve, lowering royalties, and providing low interest loans.

The combination of a price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia, in which the Saudis flooded the market with crude oil, and decreased demand due to Covid-19 has led to a drop in the global oil price.

In the midst of the Covid-19 outbreak, financial aid is essential in some sectors, as it helps to prevent businesses staying open and facilitating the spread of the disease, but this is clearly not relevant for the oil sector. Here the proposed aid appears to originate from the symbolic importance of the fossil fuel industry for Trump, emphasising just how little it is appropriate to trust powerful peoples to make decisions in the public's best interests.

This support for oil companies comes in the context of the decreasing financial viability of coal over renewables on a global scale, and a fracking industry in the US reliant on $300 billion in bonds. The increasing sensitivity of the oil industry to price swings suggests that “green” alternatives are eating away at its market share.

Previously, right wing climate skepticism has been explained by an ideological distrust of collectivist action and managed economies. This episode however does not fit into this explanation as Trump is trying to very explicitly support a specific competitor in the energy market over others. It might be that the anti-fossil fuel rhetoric of the left, had led to ideological support of fossil fuels on the right. This is a tentative suggestion as Trump is an imperfect exemplar of “the right”, but it does reinforce that climate campaigners must be careful with the rhetoric they use in order to avoid unwanted outcomes.


Other News of interest:

2050 Net Zero targets not possible unless flying and red meat are cut out.

Sweden joins UK campaign to protect 30% of global oceans by 2030

Building renewables is cheaper than using coal in many areas globally

Manchester plans to halve emissions by 2050, but also build more roads and increase air travel

Globally we are way off track 1.5/2 degree targets

Democratic majority allows Virginia to target 100% clean power

Environment Bill sets out the UK's green future outside the EU. Claims to put climate front and center of future policy


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