As Obama leaves the White House, the world needs a climate leader
Credit: NASA/Kathryn Hansen
It is now ‘very likely’ that 2016 will be the hottest year on record, according to the World Meteorological Organisation, whose preliminary data suggests temperatures of approximately 1.2° Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
This means that 16 of the 17 hottest years will have been in this century, with 2015 and 2016 as back-to-back record-breakers.
While the news was bad last year, the negotiation of the Paris Agreement — a deal with unprecedented international support — gave some cause for optimism. Both China and the US were finally taking major strides, largely thanks to Barack Obama’s decision to make climate change mitigation a central plank of his second term.
Now, the world is even hotter and a climate change denier is about to take over the White House. Donald Trump has already appointed ‘climate criminal‘ Myron Ebell to lead the rollback of the Environmental Protection Agency, and is reportedly seeking quick ways to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement.
However, as Leah Davis of the Green Alliance wrote last week, ‘the US-sized hole can be filled’ if an existing climate leader is willing to step forward and offer ‘strong climate diplomacy’.
“The UK could see this as a major opportunity. In the light of Brexit it will need to be increasingly outward looking, and it has a long and strong track record on which it could build. It was the first country to set a legally binding goal for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the first to announce a date to end unabated coal and the first to establish an investment bank dedicated to the green economy.”
There are lots of good reasons for the UK to position itself as a climate leader, from the jobs created by green energy to the investment it could unlock. Moreover, it would clearly demonstrate that post-Brexit Britain is an outward-looking, innovative and responsible global player.
However, the early signs are not promising. While Theresa May has voiced some support for climate action, her decision to scrap the Department for Energy and Climate Change suggests that environmental issues are not a priority, as does her government’s sluggish progress towards ratification of the Paris Agreement.
That said, this generation of Tories is not fundamentally climate-sceptical, and they have been lazy on climate action rather than actively averse to change.
Hopefully the election of Trump — who believes that global warming is a Chinese hoax — will shake them out of their stupor.
Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin is editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.