May-DUP coalition and #climate change

Note: I pitched this a couple of weeks to a news outlet, was told yes/no/maybe and then waited.. and waited.  Further correspondence unanswered, so am posting it here, if only for posterity….


Let’s play a game of pretend.  Let’s pretend that the deal wounded Prime Minister Theresa May has stitched with the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party lasts for at least one of the five years she mentioned in her speech on Friday morning.

The deal is causing some Tory MPs concern, with some warning party whips that a formal deal would be opposed, thanks to the DUP’s positions on abortion, gay rights and climate change. Basically, they’re worried that the deal will further re-toxify the Tories.

Let’s pretend that she won’t be “gone in six months” , or in fact at “the end of next week”. What might we have to look forward to on climate change, which was predictably absent from the election campaign ? First we should briefly recap the DUP and some of its climate change positions.
Who are the DUP and what actually is their view on climate change

The DUP is a political party in Northern Ireland,  founded in 1971 (at the height of the Troubles) by Ian Paisley, who led it for the next 38 years. It’s now led by Arlene Foster,  who probably came to the attention of most English voters only when the Good Friday power-sharing arrangement was suspended earlier this year when the she had to resign over a scandal about energy efficiency…

The DUP has now got ten members of Parliament. One of them is Sammy Wilson. Back in 2009, as environment minister in Northern he banned UK Government ads which exhorting people to “Act on C02.”

It’s unclear how much the DUP will try to hold up the May government on social and environmental issues though.  For one, they’re probably simply more interested in what happens with the European Union (they’re keen to avoid a ‘hard border’).   The editor of Belfast’s Unionist-leaning daily News Letter Sam McBride says

“They’ve been very pragmatic, are very malleable when they have to be, have governed [in Northern Ireland] for a decade now with Sinn Fein, who are diametrically opposed to them on almost every ideological sphere.”

Secondly, they know that there are powerful Tories who would push back if they tried to push, for example, on gay rights.  Ruth Davidson, leader of the Tories in Scotland, has secured agreement from Theresa May that the DUP deal will not affect LGBTI

So, perhaps they will not have much obvious impact on environmental decisions. Time will tell.


What big climate decisions are coming up that might be affected?

The first indication of May’s agenda (if she is indeed still Prime Minister: rumours are swirling) will be the “Queens Speech” on Monday 19th June.  [It was delayed]

This is the formal opening of the new parliament, where the Queen reads out the government’s legislative agenda.

Wags are already predicting it will be the  shortest Queens Speech ever., given so many things can’t be talked about, thanks to pressure not just from DUP, but also marginal MPs.  If climate change gets a more than a passing mention, I’ll eat this …  article, a la Matthew Goodwin


In autumn the Chancellor of the Exchequer, will have to keep his promise.  In his spring budget Philip Hammond put off changes to the UK’s carbon price until his autumn 2017 budget. As per Carbon Brief,

“Subjects not mentioned in the budget include flooding, shale gas (a favourite of former chancellor George Osborne) and a diesel scrappage scheme, which campaigners say is needed to tackle the UK’s chronic air pollution. Hammond also did not mention renewables or carbon targets, in a lightweight budget document that clocked just 68 pages, compared to 148 in last year’s version.”

With regard to renewables, there are great concerns about a policy vacuum  following the closure of the Renewables Obligation to new capacity.

According to Adam Vaughan, the Guardian’s energy correspondent, drawing on a Green Alliance  study

“investment in windfarms will fall off a “cliff edge” over the next three years and put the UK’s greenhouse gas reduction targets at risk, with more than £1bn of future investment in renewable energy projects disappeared over the course of 2016, the Green Alliance found when it analysed the government’s latest pipeline of major infrastructure plans.”

“The final closure of the Renewables Obligation to new capacity in 2017 – ending a scheme that’s responsible for 23.4% of all electricity supplied in the UK in 2015-16 – can only mean even fewer renewable generation sites coming online in the next year.”

Another  reportStaying Connected: Key Elements for UK–EU27 Energy Cooperation After Brexit, jointly authored by Chatham House, the University of Exeter and the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC), argues that there are strong practical reasons for treating energy as a special case during Brexit negotiations. If common ground could be found on energy during the Brexit negotiations, it would, according to the authorts benefit both the UK and the EU,

Sure, but there seems to be a widening gap between what ‘could’ and ‘should’ happen and what seems possible.

Meanwhile, at some point the much delayed (actually AWOL) emissions reduction plan will have to get released at some point.

As for the  post-Brexit positions (given that the UK will no longer be within the EU bloc in the UNFCCC negotiations), well, that’s doesn’t seem near the top of anyone’s to do list.

Basically, there is no end in sight to what academic Malcolm Keay has described as the “ideological limbo” in which the UK

“risks getting the worst of both worlds – without the coordination and direction which could come from a centralised approach or the efficiencies and innovation which might emerge from a more consistent market based policy. UK energy policy [risks being] not be fit for purpose and will fail to meet its key goals, of economic effectiveness, environmental protection and energy security.”

Meanwhile, the carbon dioxide accumulates

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