Seahorse Summaries is a 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.
It’s fair to say that July has seen us swelter: not only have we endured record breaking temperatures but a cabinet reshuffle that was not so much of a ‘shuffle’ but a total overhaul. But, what does this all mean for the environment?
The new Government
On 24th July, Theresa May stepped down as leader of the Conservative Party and made way for the UK’s new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. With no time to spare, Johnson began one of the country’s most notable cabinet reshuffles. Although now dubbed as a Hard Brexit cabinet raring to take the UK out of the EU by October, the new appointments have also been described as surprisingly green and include keen environmentalist Zac Goldsmith and net zero champion Simon Clarke.
Michael Gove also scored a top job as head of the Cabinet Office, and we have high hopes the passion he showed in Defra will help him drive the environmental agenda across government departments. The new Defra Secretary, Theresa Villiers, looks to have good green credentials, but how they will weigh up against the priority of leaving the EU no matter what is yet to be seen.
Former clean energy minister, Claire Perry has been appointed President of next year’s UN climate talks, likely to be hosted in the UK, which shows the new Prime Minister’s seriousness and commitment to making the talks a success. Perry has extensive experience and knowledge in climate policy. Her appointment has been praised across Twitter, with former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres tweeting that she is ‘thrilled’.
However, just one week before the new appointments, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) published its annual update on the UK’s progress on meeting its carbon targets and climate resilience goals. The reports were damning, showing that the UK has met only one of its 26 climate targets. The Committee concluded that despite well-intentioned ambition, the UK has stalled on its progress on tackling and preparing for climate change.
With bold leadership and clear and stable policy vital for putting the UK back on track, the new Government may have missed its chance. Brexit continues to dominate the political discourse and now a no-deal Brexit is becoming increasingly worrying given the unknown ramifications.
The major reshuffle has also seen the return of some big hitters to the backbenches, notably Rory Stewart, Penny Mourdant, Philip Hammond and Jeremy Hunt. We hope all will continue to encourage ambitious action on climate and the environment. We also hope a few other shy greens might come out and decide to champion these issues.
During July, the UK experienced its highest ever officially recorded temperature of 38.7C; the country buckled under the heat and crudely demonstrated how ill-equipped we are at adapting to hotter temperatures. Heat on this scale, however, is not an anomaly anymore, with, for instance, this summer proving to be Deja-vu for last summer. And now, the Met Office has revealed that the UK’s hottest years have all happened since 2002 and the average temperature across the country is now almost 1C warmer than it was between 1961 and 1990.
The abnormal is becoming the new normal.
July’s record heat is another environmental wake up call and sign that the climate change is an emergency that we are facing now. There is evidence, however, that these signs are beginning to influence public opinion; a recent survey has revealed that 71% of the public believe climate change is more important that Brexit in the long term, with 60% believing that the government is not focusing enough on this climate emergency.
A little bit of hope…
The world celebrated the landmark anniversary of the Apollo II landing in July. 50 years ago, Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon and uttered the now infamous words ‘…one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’. Back in 1969, the moon landing demonstrated unmatched ambition, focus and imagination and generated unsurprising awe that remains to this day.
The anniversary has fuelled discussions around how achieving net zero is this century’s equivalent to the moon landing: unparalleled commitment, creativity and cooperation are urgently needed to drive the engineering enterprise and change to reach a goal that will have an impact for centuries.
If we can put a man on the moon, we can get to net zero.