The UK will be hosting the UN’s climate summit COP26 in Glasgow at the end of October – but Britain’s place as a world-leading nation in the battle against climate change could be undermined by major policy failures from the government.
Here are just three areas where the government has been accused of “environmental vandalism”.
1. Burning the peatlands
The government has been criticised for allowing behaviour akin to “cutting down rainforests” to take place in the peatlands.
These peatlands, found across the Pennines valleys, North York Moors, Lake District and in the uplands of the South West, are the greatest carbon stores in the UK.
Peatland are a form of wetlands that provides invaluable ecosystems as well – but when drained or burned for farming, they transition from being carbon sinks to carbon sources.
According to Greenpeace’s journalistic branch, Unearthed, more than 100 fires have been deliberately started on the bogland in the north of England.
Writer George Monbiot described the incident as “part of a widespread patten of vandalism, accompanied by blatant misinformation in our peatlands”.
One hundred and nine fires were started to deliberately remove heather on grouse-shooting estates so grouse-hunting can go ahead as a winter sport, according to the new report.
The activist group Wild Moors say all of these fires took place in less than a week.
There has been a partial government ban in both England and Wales on burning peatlands in place since May, but it’s thought these fires were started on shallow peatlands which are reportedly not part of the ban.
The government’s law only prohibits fires which burn peatlands more than 40cm into the earth – but experts say just 30cm in depth is enough to destroy the land.
The UK’s peatlands are home to 13% of the world’s blanket bog, a type of peatland that is found in only a few parts of the planet.
A spokesperson for the government’s department of environment, food and rural affairs (Defra) said: “We have always been clear of the need to phase out rotational burning of protected blanket bog – which is why we have brought forward legislation to protect these vital habitats from harm whilst ensuring landowners and managers have the tools available to protect and restore them to their natural state.
“This represents a crucial step in meeting the Government’s nature and climate change targets, including the legally binding commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions.”
The representative added: “At COP26 we will bring countries together to encourage them to protect and restore ecosystems to help tackle the urgent threat of global climate change.”
This eye-opening investigation was published just two weeks before the government hosts the UN’s Climate Summit, COP26 in Scotland.
2. Prioritising economy over environment in trade deals
A leaked government document instructed ministers to prioritise economic growth over environment reassurances in trade deals with other nations.
However the paper was not seen or approved by cabinet before it was reported on by Sky News and the government is reportedly not considering it.
Still, the news followed claims that Britain had watered down or removed its climate promises altogether when striking a trade deal with Australia.
Global Justice Now started campaigning against such trade deals, including the idea of the UK joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership in June.
This group has 11 countries, and according to campaigners, would undermine food standards, allow chlorine chicken and steroid-fed beef into the UK while giving more power to big tech companies.
Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, explained: “If the UK joins this block, it will be an act of environmental vandalism in the year we host COP26, binding us to climate inaction for another generation.”
3. Approving mining of the oilfield, Cambo
Operated by Shell and Siccar Point Energy, the two fuel giants do have a licence to begin work on the lucrative oilfield but just need the government’s nod before they can get stuck in.
Drilling could begin as early as 2022 and oil production would then run from 2025 until 2050.
If the government approve of drilling in Cambo it goes against the UK’s target of cutting emissions by more than 75% by 2035 and Britain’s bid to reach net zero by 2050.
Greenpeace protests have been campaigning outside Downing Street against the new oilfield in recent weeks and an activist group called Stop Cambo has come together to push back against mining the fossil fuel haven.
Writing in the Scottish newspaper The National in July, MSP Lorna Slater said: “At a time when we are seeing climate targets being missed and record temperatures being hit around the world, this would be nothing short of environmental vandalism.”
She added: “It is symptomatic of a system that puts fossil fuel extraction and the maximisation of short-term profit above all else.”
Prime minister Johnson is reportedly preparing to sign off on a drilling permit for Shell and Siccar Point Energy.
Director general for net zero strategy at the BEIS department, Lee McDonough, also claimed Downing Street is “confident” it will not breach climate targets with Cambo. But activists are deeply concerned about the long-term impact this could have on reaching net zero.