Seahorse Summaries May 2019

Seahorse Summaries is a new monthly round-up of the top environmental news stories. Launched in April 2019, it provides you with Seahorse’s insight on what we’ve seen and heard in the news, covering both the important and the intriguing.

May has proven to be another big month for environmental news. It started with the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) publishing its highly-anticipated government advice on how to achieve net zero emissions (a riveting bedtime read for some) and ending with Europe voting green in record numbers in the European Parliament elections. It looks like the momentum that started with Extinction Rebellion’s protests is continuing to help drive change. 

Another wake up call

The UN published the findings from its landmark report on the state of the planet’s global ecosystems. The results were sobering. One million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, accounting for an eighth of all known animal and plant species on Earth. 75% of terrestrial land and 66% of marine environment have been significantly altered by human activity, with only 3% of the world’s oceans free from human pressure. This natural decline will undermine progress in 80% of the Sustainable Development Goals, proving that this is not only an environmental issue but a developmental, economic, security, social and moral issue too. Biodiversity, humanity’s safety net, is reaching breaking point, but it continues to receive far less public and political attention than climate change.

This month also shone a light on Government’s inadequate action to tackle climate change. Parliament’s International Development Committee (IDC) published its report, UK aid for combating climate change, which exposed the Government’s contradictory climate and aid investments. The report revealed that between 2010 and 2016, the UK spent £4.8bn on schemes that contribute to harmful fossil fuel projects but notably, this sum was found to be almost equal the £4.9bn the UK spent between 2011 and 2017 on international climate change mitigation projects. Former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon responded that “these figures and policies are hard to reconcile with the UK’s commitments under the Paris agreement”.

After last month’s landmark environmental media coverage and public engagement, Seahorse had high hopes that this trend would continue throughout May, yet the IDC’s findings, coupled with No. 10’s failure to declare a climate and environmental emergency, has dampened such thoughts. However, as we approach the final weeks of Theresa May’s premiership, there are calls for the Prime Minister to consider adopting the CCC’s recommendations for net zero to revamp her Brexit-tainted legacy. And as the Conservative Party leadership contest gets properly underway in June, Seahorse expects to see several contenders run on an environmental ticket to secure votes from younger party members.

Coal clings on

Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, the results of the Australian elections disappointed and shocked environmentalists around the world. It was dubbed as the referendum on climate change, with Labor presenting the green policies and the Liberal National Coalition pushing back. Regardless of what the polls said, the Liberal National Coalition secured a majority and reports now say this could lead to the resurgence of ‘big coal’ in Australia.

The win has been attributed to Scott Morrison managing to frame Bill Shorten’s green policies as a loss for the country, especially for the economy. The Sun argued the results showed that ‘ordinary voters prefer low taxes, sensible economics and job creation over high taxes and climate change lectures’. This confirms why decarbonisation can’t happen without placing people at its heart; policies must ensure that jobs will not be taken away and a prosperous and sustainable future is available for all. So, as the rest of the world either begins or continues to transition to a green economy, we hope it learns from this tragic failure of the Labor party.

Environment and sport

Finally, on a separate note, the Independent launched its interesting series on sport, environment and the climate crisis, discussing how they interact with one another. Sport fundamentally relies on a healthy planet, but the large carbon footprints of professional athletes are becoming a threat to it. For instance, Saturday’s Champions League final has been criticised for Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and the teams’ fans travelling to Spain to watch the match when it could have been held in the UK. At the same time, sporting events can be used as a platform for spreading awareness about the urgency of tackling the climate crisis. The series offers a unique way to examine environmental stewardship and protection, demonstrating that initially contrasting sectors are more interlinked than first thought.