Could we see a republican-style shift in climate politics in the UK?

  • 12 Jan 2011, 17:28
  • robin


John McCain - green skeletons in his closet? flickr/soggydan

The Republicans took control of the US House of Representatives last week for the first time in 15 years. Whether they will send the US " back to the Stone Age" on climate policy remains to be seen, but the signs are not good. A quick summary: There are now only  four Republicans who will publicly admit that climate change is real and caused by human activities. With Republicans and some democrats opposing it, the US climate bill failed to pass through the Senate. The Select Committee devoted to climate issues has been  disbanded. Climate sceptics are taking  control of other key Committees and there's speculation as to who will launch a new investigation into climate science or climate policy first.

The shift in US conservative orthodoxy towards climate scepticism has been startling. It's easy to forget how quickly the political landscape has changed. Between 2003 and 2007 prominent Republican John McCain actively supported the introduction of climate legislation. During the  Presidential campaign in 2008, he said that

"We stand warned by serious and credible scientists across the world that time is short and the dangers are great.… A cap-and-trade policy will send a signal that will be heard and welcomed all across the American economy."


By  March 2010 he was describing climate science as "inexact" and possibly "flawed" and opposing climate legislation. Republican Fred Upton, now leading the charge against the EPA's attempts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, has followed a similar path. Now, Republican Presidential candidates are seen as vulnerable for having "green skeletons in their closet."

Rather than political whim, the shift towards scepticism by the Republicans appears to be deliberate realpolitik following a  sharp increase in US public climate scepticism the rise of the sceptic-friendly  Tea Party movement.

It's clear that there are some underlying similarities in the UK - in 2010 we've seen a shift in public opinion to become more sceptical about climate change, and  considerable opposition to climate policies from some conservative backbenchers.

However, in the UK the political debate is in quite a different place.

For whatever reason - impartiality regulations, perhaps - we don't have a powerful broadcaster like Fox News pushing an ideological climate skeptic agenda. While sceptic thinktanks do exist, there isn't an extensive network of them, as there is in the US.

Perhaps most obviously, climate is not a bipartisan issue. There is a striking level of agreement across the mainstream political spectrum that action on climate change in the form of emissions cuts is necessary. The Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems have all nailed their colours firmly to the mast of addressing climate change - the Conservatives made it a central feature of their rebranding.

For the moment, at least, it seems unlikely that we could see a Republican-magnitude shift in party line from any of the main UK parties.

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