The UK may take a more skeptical approach to addressing man-made climate change in future due to the victory of the “leave” forces in last week’s Brexit referendum to quit the European Union.
Prominent leaders of the “leave” campaign — including Conservative MP and former London mayor Boris Johnson, now being touted as a potential prime minister — are viewed as climate skeptics, at least compared to their counterparts on the losing “remain” side, headed by British PM David Cameron.
Cameron has announced he will resign in the wake of his referendum defeat, setting off a race for leader of the Conservative party, who would also become PM.
While Johnson has never denied man-made climate change and described last year’s United Nations’ Paris climate treaty as “fantastic,” he also wrote in a Dec. 20 Telegraph column, quoting prominent U.K. climate skeptic Piers Corbyn, that human beings tend to confuse weather with climate and overestimate their impact on the natural world.
As Johnson put it: “I am sure that those global leaders (who drafted the Paris treaty) were driven by a primitive fear that the present ambient warm weather is somehow caused by humanity. And that fear — as far as I understand the science — is equally without foundation.”
Other leaders of the “leave” campaign such as Conservative MP Michael Gove — another possible candidate for PM — Nigel Lawson of the Global Warming Policy Foundation and Conservative MP and former environment minister Owen Paterson, are climate skeptics.
So is “leave” forces leader Nigel Farage, head of the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP), another big winner to emerge from the referendum campaign.
While climate change wasn’t an issue in the referendum campaign, a recent poll of 1,618 people divided evenly between “leave” and “remain” supporters by the marketing research firm ComRes, found “leave” voters almost twice as likely to believe climate change is not caused by humans as “remain” supporters.
They were also more distrustful of scientists and media reporting on climate change, more likely to oppose wind farms and more likely to support fracking.
Nothing will happen in the short-term to the U.K.’s current ambitious target to reduce its industrial greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions linked to climate change to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.
For now, the U.K. remains a supporter of the Paris climate treaty and part of the EU, until it negotiates its way out.
The UN says when the U.K. leaves the EU, a major supporter of its climate change agenda, a “recalibration” of the Paris treaty will be necessary.
Climate activists fear the “leave” victory will distract the EU from climate change as its biggest priority becomes negotiating the U.K.’s exit from the 28-nation alliance and dealing with independence movements in other EU countries given new life by the Brexit vote.