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8 July 2016updated 04 Oct 2023 11:46am

Three ways that the case for Brexit overlaps with climate scepticism

And why we should be worried by the links between the two.

By India Bourke

The independent Committee on Climate Change has “grossly misunderstood the circumstances in the advice that it has given to the government”, said Professor David Campbell, the lead speaker at an event hosted by a climate sceptic think tank in parliament this week.

So what, you might ask? Climate policy sceptics challenging a committee of world-renown experts is nothing new. What is new, however, is the legitimacy that the referendum campaign has lent to these tactics and those who peddle them.

The cross-pollination between climate change cynics and Eurosceptics is worryingly widespread. Professor Campbell’s work, for instance, is being platformed by the Global Warming Policy Foundation of 55 Tufton Street –a think tank founded by the climate science-querying chair of the Vote Leave campaign, Lord Nigel Lawson.

Registered at the same London address are the TaxPayers’ Alliance, Business for Britain, the European Foundation, and the Centre for Policy Studies: other influential rightwing organisations.

This handy map from the Desmog UK Blog reveals just how closely linked the two projects are:

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For greater detail, view this map on LittleSis Source:

Backing for such thinking may also be set to come from increasingly high places. Lord Lawson has already come out in support of Michael Gove for Tory leader. Controversial former environment secretary Owen Paterson delivered this pro-Brexit speech at the same Tufton Street address. And Andrea Leadsom launched her career as Energy Secretary with the question: “is climate change real?

Leadsom has recently stressed her support for a business-as-usual approach to environmental policy. But a document compiled by a research group she ran is clearly opposed to those parts of EU environmental legislation that “leaves European business uncompetitive”.

Environmentalists fear that arguments like these may lay the path for a legislative “bonfire”. And will be far from comforted by Leadsom’s recent statement that the government has no plans to introduce further regulations to limit methane leaks from fracking, despite a new CCC report that specifically criticises the regulatory standards of the current regime.

So apart from a shared address and a preponderance of snowy hair, what other tell-tale signs are there that you may be dealing with Clurosceptic? (a Brexit-supporting climate sceptic).

Here are three things I noticed at the Global Warming Policy Foundation’s event earlier this week that help highlight some overlaps:

1. Undermining the mainstream experts

Campbell’s call for a review of the Climate Change Committee’s advice on the fifth carbon budget was echoed by Lawson himself: “I do believe there will be a review following the Brexit shock,” Lawson said.

Yet such assertions contradict the Committee’s firm position that “the UK’s 2050 objective is not affected by the vote to leave the EU”. Not least since, “the fifth carbon budget recognises uncertainty over a 15 year time horizon; there are a range of policies to meet that budget, consistent with the UK being in or out of Europe”, as a spokesperson for the Committee tells the New Statesman.

2. Misleading claims

In making his argument against the legal utility of the Paris Climate Agreement, Professor Campbell misquoted a key section of its final text, replacing the word “should” with “shall”. He brushed this off as immaterial to his wider argument. But, as Carbon Brief’s Simon Evans points out: “It’s a crucial distinction – it’s the difference between legally binding and not legally binding […] that’s why it took negotiators hours in the final hours of the Paris negotiations because it was a really important word.”

3. Using half-truths to claim a moral high ground

Lawson was also keen to stress that forcing developing countries to reduce emissions at the same pace as the developed world would be “positively immoral”. Luckily the international community, as represented by the Paris Agreement, is broadly in agreement. What it does not automatically agree with, however, is the assertion that fossil fuels will necessarily always be the “cheapest or most reliable source of fuel”.

Tactics such as these have long been flaunted within environmentalism’s relatively marginal debate. But with Leave campaigners’ fortunes in the ascendant, they may now help climate-sceptics’ wider right-wing worldview go mainstream.

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