Environment

Theresa May: an environmental maker or breaker?

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Will the UK’s new leading lady, Theresa May, prioritise the environment and a carbon-neutral future? Her new cabinet of MPs suggests not.

As of the 13 July 2016, May became the prime minister of the United Kingdom. During a rollercoaster media circus elimination-fest, five Conservative candidates were spectacularly whittled down to just two: the unlikely Andrea Leadsom, the former secretary of state for energy, and the six-year serving home secretary, May.

Following a dramatic weekend resignation as a candidate from Leadsom, May became the automatic and uncontested politician to clinch the golden keys to Number 10. May entered Downing Street officially on Wednesday 13 July, as only the second female prime minister in UK history.

The new prime minister’s entry through the infamous door of power saw a systematic cull and reshuffle of David Cameron’s old cabinet: out with the old (for the most – Jeremy Hunt, grim reaper of the NHS, unfortunately still remains) and in with the new.

Another appointment that provided much mirth and mockery within the media was that of Boris Johnson, failed Brexit candidate for prime minister. His turn in the employment bran tub was rewarded with him being promoted to foreign secretary. Yes, the man who offends wherever he goes is now responsible for fostering relationships between the UK and the rest of the world.

During this handout of positions, it seems the UK’s environment plummeted to the bottom of the government’s corporate priority bucket, with the gloomy announcement that the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is to be obliterated.

DECC will be replaced by the newly-created Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy headed up by former local government and communities secretary, Greg Clark.

Clark, up until this week, was responsible for the decision for Cuadrilla’s appeals in Lancashire on two exploratory fracking sites. His position was filled by former secretary of state for business, innovation and skills Sajid Javid. Clark made this short statement shortly after his new job appointment via a government site:

I am thrilled to have been appointed to lead this new department charged with delivering a comprehensive industrial strategy, leading government’s relationship with business, furthering our world-class science base, delivering affordable, clean energy and tackling climate change.

Notice how climate change was more of an afterthought than a precedence. Is it not disquieting that a whole dedicated department for climate change and energy has been scrapped and lumped ungainly into the same categories as business and industrial strategy? This will fill environmentalists with apprehension for the government’s supposed commitment to climate change and a sustainable future, and rightly so.

Following the United Nations Climate Change Conference in December 2015, where 200 nations agreed to push forward and end dependence on fossil fuels, there has been little indication from the UK government that they will head in this positive direction.

Recently, Amber Rudd, in her former role as secretary of state for energy and climate change, drove a 64% slash in solar subsidies, effectively wiping out the solar industry in the UK. Many renewable business closures, bankruptcies and job losses resulted from this regressive policy implementation.

May’s voting record on environmental issues is hardly progressive. On fracking, she consistently voted against stronger regulation and against requiring an environmental permit for fracking. On the crucial Infrastructure Act vote, May was absent. She was also a no-show for the vote on fracking in protected areas in 2015. Clearly a sustainable and green environment isn’t a love of hers. May has also consistently voted for the selling-off of England’s state-owned forests and she also voted for the badger cull. Theresa May has never rebelled against her party during her time as an MP.

Perhaps the most unsettling appointment within May’s new cabinet is that of Leadsom, who has graduated from secretary of state for energy to secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs.

A woman who has consistently voted against climate change mitigation measures and holds a scant amount of knowledge on the environment. Perhaps Prime Minister May has a sense of humour, appointing both Johnson and Leadsom to such unfitting ministerial positions?

An example of Leadsom’s environmental knowledge reserves includes this comical statement on EU farming subsidies during the Leave campaign:

It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies.

The very same person who remarkably asked, upon her first ministerial appointment in the DECC, “Is climate change real?”

Endorsed as a candidate for prime minister by fellow candidate, dropout Boris Johnson, Leadsom received his backing when he stated he believed that Leadsom held the “zap, drive and determination” for the job. Interestingly, other synonyms of zap include “slaughter, exterminate or kill off”.

Her simplistic and often ridiculed views suggest that her elevated appointment into an environmental ministerial position is a satirical error and one which the UK will pay for severely, with probable red-tape cutting on current EU environmental laws which are likely to be rewritten and watered down to a corporate advantage (think fracking).

Leadsom has also has been vocal about repealing the the Hunting Act 2004, claiming:

I would absolutely commit to holding a vote to repeal the hunting ban. It has not proven to be in the interests of animal welfare whatsoever.

Really, Andrea? There can be no justification for fox hunting in a compassionate and progressive government, of which we know the Conservatives have neither attributes.

The explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes has already appealed to May for her to abandon any plans for repealing the fox hunting ban, following Leadsom’s surprising promotion:

The beliefs of conservatives and countryfolk across Britain on the issue of hunting have changed since the Hunting Act was brought in. I now believe the time has come for the Conservative party to move on too. That is why I am writing to ask you to commit to retaining the Hunting Act and dropping the promise to repeal it.

 

The Hunting Act was brought into being because the British public believed that the use of packs of hounds to kill foxes for ‘sport’ had no place in a British society that considered itself civilised, and that the practice should go the same way as bear-baiting and cock-fighting.

 

Since then, public opinion has only become increasingly clear on the subject. Recent polling by IPSOS-MORI shows that 84% of country folk are against a return of hunting, as indeed are 70% of Conservative voters.

What is clear is that being pro-hunting is no longer part of the conservative DNA. What is equally clear is that the principles of freedom and tradition are no longer a cover to justify cruelty.

Leadsom is an “almost evangelical” and deliriously confused fracking fan – vocally championing the risky fossil fuel extraction method at every opportunity, and foregoing local communities in favour of a financial and employment windfall that has already been discredited by many reputable sources.

She believes that fracking will be a jobs goldmine and help keep the lights on. She has dismissed all safety concerns and reassured the public that the mythical ‘gold-standard, robust regulations’ will take care of all of fracking’s ills. She stated:

During the process of the actual hydraulic fracturing, an independent well inspector will be standing at the wellhead with very sophisticated equipment and in the event that you get seismic activity that is greater than slamming a door or jumping off a ladder then they will call a halt and carry on at another point.

If May was serious about preserving and improving the environment with a commitment to a low-carbon future, the short-sighted dismantling of the Department of Energy and Climate Change would not be a consideration.

The future of a healthy climate is non-negotiable. Serious investment in UK renewable energy is required and to downgrade an entire department sends less than-warm signals to investors. The decision drew immediate criticism from respected environmentalists and politicians.

We are right to feel pessimistic about the new Tory cabinet appointments in respect of the environment.

May’s speedy undertaking to amalgamate the burning issue of climate change into a jointly run one with business, indicates the new Conservative line-up’s desultory approach to the environment.

The green lobby should now be vigilant regarding all future policy and regulation tampering in favour of big business profits over the sustainability of the UK’s environment. We cannot let Theresa May’s Conservative government proceed uncontested with any dilution of our existing environmental protections.

With Labour still in PLP-induced fragmented disarray, there has never been a more desperate time for a credible and vocal opposition of an environmental-based direction.

 

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