When it rains it pours. And in the U.K. right now it’s both literally flooding and also raining down hard on efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change. With 14 flood warnings in effect, Environment Minister Owen Paterson has ordered for a plan that creates a long-term solution to deal with the flooding. That Paterson would talk about long-term solutions to environmental issues is interesting considering that since he’s taken up his post, climate change spending has nearly been cut in half.
Recent numbers released by the freedom of information rules show that climate change adaptation funding at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs — which deals with things like increased flooding — has fallen over 40 percent since Paterson came into power in September 2012, after going up almost 20 percent under his predecessor.
A year after coming into office, Paterson made the argument that global warming could be positive, saying, “People get very emotional about this subject and I think we should just accept that the climate has been changing for centuries:”
“I think the relief of this latest [Intergovermental Report on Climate Change] report is that it shows a really quite modest increase, half of which has already happened. We need to take [the report] seriously, but I am rather relieved that it is not as catastrophic in its forecast as we had been led to believe early on and what it is saying is something we can adapt to over time and we are very good as a race at adapting.”
With flooding expected to be the greatest threat of a changing climate posed to the U.K., impacting millions of people by mid-century, many in the country hope that the population can adapt quickly. And then there’s the fact that the IPCC report said the planet is on track to warm an average of 4°C (7°F) above preindustrual levels by 2100, which will prove catastrophic to millions of people.
Regarding Owen’s recent efforts, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said that the Environment Agency “has done excellent work” helping communities during the floods. The agency has been receiving criticism for failing to dredge rivers appropriately.
Judging by Cameron’s recent moves to promote hydraulic fracturing and scale back environmental regulation, both of which will likely contribute to increased greenhouse gas emissions, the Environment Agency will be hard-pressed to keep up with demand in the future.
Last week Cameron said that the U.K. is going “all out for shale,” and that in an effort to win local support for the controversial practice “revenues generated by shale gas companies could be paid directly in cash to homeowners living nearby,” reported the Guardian.
A recent study from Cambridge University agrees that U.K. citizens should be compensated for fracking, but not for the revenue generated from the fossil fuel — the study said people should be compensated for the environmental costs accrued through the emissions.
“Shale gas will contribute to climate change in two ways, from carbon dioxide emissions when the gas is burned, and from the fugitive emissions of underground methane that leak into the atmosphere when the gas is extracted,” Chris Hope, a parliamentary adviser and reader in policy modelling at the Judge Business School in Cambridge, told the Guardian.
The study estimates that the government should be paying over £6 billion annually — around $9 billion — by 2025 to compensate for environmental damage.
“The government’s ‘sweeteners’ of one percent of shale gas revenues to local communities and handing local authorities all of the business rates arising from shale gas wells can be seen as a financial compensation for the disruption fracking will cause locally,” writes Hope in an editorial for The Conversation. “The introduction of climate change taxation would tackle the far greater global disruption that the climate effects of shale gas would otherwise bring.”
The U.K. is more than five times as densely populated as the United States. Ministers are currently considering changing trespassing laws to allow gas exploration to take place under residences even without owners’ permission, a major blow to property owners. This is an issue that has already divided local U.S. communities over the pros and cons of fracking as produced water, increased truck traffic, and gas leaks can cause residents major headaches, literally and figuratively.
Cameron also just announced cuts to environmental regulations that will likely add to the cost of environmental damage from the fossil fuel industry. According to the Guardian, Cameron is pitching the new rules as saving businesses money by doing things like removing building standards and reducing demands for renewable energy sources.
Last week the U.K. government said that it will not have a renewable energy target beyond 2020, the first time in almost 20 years that there won’t be a target in place. This has upset the growing renewable energy industry — wind and solar make up about 15 percent of the U.K.’s electricity supply — causing future uncertainty that could impact investment.
The U.K. lobbied heavily against mandatory renewable energy targets during the recent EU negotiations over the block’s future goals.
“This government, which brands itself ‘the greenest ever’ has this week lobbied the EU to get rid of safeguards for fracking as well as failing to create any new renewable energy targets,” Peter Cranie, a member of the UK’s Green Party, said last week. “This makes it a double disaster for all those who care about the future of our environment.”