By Anders Lorenzen
OK admittedly it is a bit different this time around, but nevertheless, we have just had a UK general election campaign where the biggest issue of our time, climate change was yet again omitted. Only really the Green Party desperately tried to draw it to the attention of the public, the media and other political parties without much luck.
This general election was not planned and as the name says ‘Snap Election’ campaigning time is shorter than a normal election. Prime Minister Theresa May repeatedly said she is calling the election primarily due to Brexit. She claimed she called it to win a stronger majority, which in return, she believes, will give her a stronger negotiation hand in the Brexit negotiations. But the reality is that she is also calling it to exploit Labour’s weakness and to deal with the uncomfortable narrative that she has not been elected by the British public (she won the internal Conservative leadership election after David Cameron stepped down, following the EU referendum result).
While Mrs. May has said the election would be focused only on Brexit, Labour has seen it as their chance to talk about the crisis of National Health Service (NHS), education, welfare, other social issues and of course Brexit. The UK Prime Minister then switched focus by attacking the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, saying only she represented a ‘strong and stable’ leadership. And out of all this climate change is the big loser.
Climate change and the environment falls victim again
There is nothing really new in this. Climate change and the environment also missed out in the referendum vote last year as well as in previous general elections. One could, of course, use the huge overhanging issue of Brexit to say this is so big that we can’t think about climate change now. But there is a huge mistake in making that assumption. Because how we in the future are going to respond to the enormous challenge of climate change will very much depend on the deal we negotiate with the EU as well as which EU laws we will keep. And of course which party are in government. There are worries that our climate change and clean energy targets, as well as our environmental regulations and dealing with air pollution, will be watered down as we exit the EU. Voters should really have known where the future government is positioning themselves in all this. As we prepare to leave the EU it is more important than ever that we facture climate change into that discussion. And in the case of the economy, a strategy must be deployed that harnesses the opportunities that tackling climate change brings and distances itself from the many brexiteer MP’s anti-climate views.
Brexit climate impacts
The Guardian recently reported that the UK has been lobbying to weaken EU energy efficiency laws. This prints a scary picture around what the priority for tackling climate change will be for the UK outside the EU. This absolutely should have featured high in the election debate, and it is astonishing that it did not. It is also astonishing that Labour remained far too quiet on this issue. But perhaps even more worrying is it that too many news publications from left to right also did not deem this newsworthy.
As for the other issue the NHS it really baffles me that we can talk about the crisis it faces without even mentioning air pollution and climate change, and what a warming world will mean for health nationally and globally. We are aware of the fact that a warming world will mean an increase in a variety of illnesses. On top of that, the huge health crisis of air pollution will see an increase in asthma cases, while also shortening lifespans, as well as an increase in heart-related illnesses.
Not just in the UK
This is of course not only a UK issue. Talking about the risk of climate change is not receiving enough attention in national elections worldwide. But I can’t think as anywhere it received as little attention as in this UK election. Even in last year’s US election and last month’s French election it received far more attention than in the UK.
The climate silence set to continue
Last week I attended an election debate on the environment and climate change organized by the coalition Greener UK. Unfortunately, I was proven right in fearing that this would be the only election debate I heard on these crucial issues. Apart from saying she was disappointed that Donald Trump will exit the US from the Paris Agreement, Mrs. May did not mutter the words climate change.