Erosion of the Climate Policy in the United Kingdom

Author Alexander Tatiev
Category Columnists, Town
Date January 25 2024
Reading Time 3 min.

Erosion of the Climate Policy in the United Kingdom

Once a pioneer in the fight against climate change, the United Kingdom is currently undergoing disheartening shifts in its “green” policies. While it used to lead the rhetoric on environmental responsibility, the country now faces criticism and skepticism.

In 2008, the Climate Change Act, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, set a precedent by legally capping the maximum allowable emissions of carbon dioxide. Commitments were made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. Investments in renewable energy sources, especially wind and solar projects, allowed the UK to take a leading position in the global fight against climate change. However, in recent years, these commitments have been on the decline, raising doubts about the sincerity of the climate agenda.

Let’s review some of the key steps backward:

A notable example of a shift in “green” policy was the unexpected cancellation of the Green Homes Grant program in 2021, initially perceived as revolutionary for improving the energy efficiency of homes.
The UK has also decided to reduce funding for climate projects in developing countries.
The country’s commitment to phase out coal was once considered a hallmark of its environmental initiatives. However, recent events indicate that the country’s problems outweigh political decisions.

After Brexit, the situation changed even more: everything
pointsto a departure from EU environmental standards. Legislative changes have occurred, particularly regarding key climate issues. For example:

1. Chemical regulation: While the EU promptly implemented a ban on toxic substances, such measures are absent in the UK after Brexit, raising concerns about the use of dangerous toxins prohibited in the EU.

2. Pesticides: After Brexit, the UK did not impose restrictions on 36 pesticides banned in the EU (including thiamethoxam, a major bee-killing pesticide). This allows British farmers to use harmful fertilisers contrary to biodiversity preservation commitments.
3. Carbon dioxide emission tax: Differences in carbon border adjustment mechanisms are evident. While the EU imposed tariffs on goods with significant carbon dioxide emissions back in 2026, the UK’s declared soft policy has yet to take effect and will not start until 2027. This could lead to higher environmental taxes on exports from the country.
4. Deforestation: The EU enacted a law prohibiting the sale of products contributing to deforestation. However, the UK’s restrictive rules apply only to illegal deforestation, allowing British products to potentially contribute to legal deforestation.
5. Social Climate Fund: The EU has a social climate fund financially supporting vulnerable populations during the “green” transition. The UK lacks such support, potentially hindering people from implementing “green” initiatives due to their higher costs.

Overall, the differences in environmental law between the UK and the EU raise concerns about the consequences of such policies. The latest
data from the Environmental Protection Office (OEP) paints a worrisome picture. The OEP’s second annual report shows that progress in achieving approximately half of the government’s environmental goals, including clean air and water, waste minimisation, and climate adaptation, has either stalled or is moving in the wrong direction.

The OEP, created after the UK’s exit from the EU to monitor environmental progress, emphasizes the urgent need to reverse negative environmental trends. According to scientists, the spread of invasive animal and plant species, such as the grey squirrel and rhododendron, is increasingly harming local wildlife. Water pollution incidents persist, with leaks from pipes decreasing but waste volumes, including hazardous materials, increasing. There is no monitoring of the marine environment and soil. The government is falling behind schedule in controlling chemicals and pesticides.

Out of the 51 areas the organisation monitors, about half show no progress. Within the government’s Environmental Improvement Plan, 7 out of 10 goals are mostly not being met, 2 are only partially met, and there is no data for one direction.

Dame Glenys Stacey, chair of the OEP, emphasised the need for detailed planning, transparency, and a willingness to make difficult decisions to change the trajectory of the environment. In her opinion, the government’s overarching goalnature’s safety and prosperityis still achievable, but only if measures are accelerated and expanded.

In response, Environment Secretary Rebecca Pow emphasised that the government’s goal remains to create an environmentally friendly country for future generations. The minister pledged to carefully study the OEP’s findings, respond to them “in due course,” and highlighted recent achievements, including the ban on single-use plastic packaging, the opening of a new national park, tree-planting initiatives, and collaboration with farmers in landscape restoration projects.

Read more