Tories must 'loudly disown' Donald Trump's climate change denial or pay the electoral price, think tank warns

The association of climate sceptics with ‘the conservative movement risks contaminating the centre-right brand’, Bright Blue says

Ian Johnston
Environment Correspondent
Wednesday 18 January 2017 18:11
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The President-elect has previously described climate change as a hoax perpetrated by China
The President-elect has previously described climate change as a hoax perpetrated by China

Tories must “loudly disown” the climate science denial espoused by Donald Trump and similar sceptics in the UK or they could pay a price at the ballot box as the effects of global warming become clear, a think tank has warned.

In an article for The Independent, Sam Hall, of Bright Blue, which campaigns for liberal conservatism, warned the centre-right could be “contaminated” as the “increasingly irrelevant ideas” of sceptics are shown not to be true.

They also pointed to the economic opportunities presented by clean energy, particularly given the rapid falls in the cost of renewable electricity from solar and wind.

Mr Trump’s election victory in the US has been hailed by leading British sceptic James Delingpole, a journalist, as the “beginning of the end of the Green Blob”.

However there has been cross-party support in the UK for taking steps to address climate change for many years in contrast to the situation in the US, where some right-wing Republicans engage in conspiracy theories about climate change being a plot to establish a world government.

Theresa May has sent mixed messages since becoming Prime Minister. One of her first acts was to abolish the Department for Energy and Climate Change, moving its responsibilities to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

But she appointed Greg Clark as Business Secretary and Nick Hurd as Climate Change Minister Nick Hurd and both are well regarded by the climate science community for their grasp of the issues.

Perhaps understandably distracted by the prospect of Brexit, Ms May herself has been noticeably quiet on the subject.

Mr Hall suggested this was a mistake, despite the limited influence of those who dismiss climate science.

“There is no prospect of sceptics controlling the climate policy of the main right-of-centre party in the UK as they do in the US,” he wrote in the article.

“In the UK, they are few in number and lack any real hold over the Government’s programme.

“But their association with the conservative movement risks contaminating the centre-right brand.

“Conservatives should be loud about disowning the increasingly irrelevant ideas of these fringe elements.

“If we do not, as the climate science and economic opportunities of clean energy become clearer, there could be an electoral price to pay.”

Amid the disarray of liberal and left-wing politics in the UK, “Green Blues” as they are sometimes known are increasingly important to ensuring Britain remains at the forefront of efforts to reduce the effects of climate change.

Mr Hall said most people in the UK believe climate change is happening, including more than half of Conservative voters.

Climate change: It's "game over" for planet earth

A recent YouGov poll found just nine per cent of the British public thought global warming was a deliberate hoax.

Last year was the warmest on record, Met Office and other experts confirmed, prompting one leading climatologist to warn it was “getting tight” to prevent dangerous global warming from taking place.

The average temperature for the year was 1.1C above pre-industrial levels – although boosted slightly by the natural El Nino weather effect. Climatologists generally believe storms, heatwaves and other harmful effects of climate change will become particularly dangerous after about 2C of warming.

Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell, a former International Development Secretary, told The Independent said he “broadly” agreed with Mr Hall.

But he insisted leading Tories had been speaking out on the issue.

“I think we have been very vocal – look at what David Cameron has said and Theresa May has said on climate change,” he said.

And Mr Mitchell doubted that the US would completely change course, even with Mr Trump as president.

“The wonderful thing about America is the checks and balances which exist in the system,” he said.

“The evidence for climate change is so clear that it is unlikely that the general thrust of the policy will be obliterated by the nay-sayers around Donald Trump.”

Rob Bailey, research director of the Energy, Environment and Resources Department at think tank Chatham House, said scientists were now able to demonstrate the links between climate change and extreme weather events like floods and heatwaves – and this appeared to be shifting public opinion.

“It’s becoming increasingly hard for climate sceptics to just dismiss extreme weather events by saying ‘we’ve always had extreme weather, it’s nothing new,” he said.

“I think if mainstream Conservatives were to fall into the trap of pandering to climate sceptics’ narratives in the media that would be a political risk to them.

“It would undermine their credibility as mainstream politicians.”

The effects of global warming are already being felt with islands disappearing in the Pacific, the famously impassable Northwest Passage now free of ice, allowing cruise ships to sail through, and increased wildfires on the West Coast of the US just some examples of the effects.

This article has been edited to change 'neigh-sayers' to what Andrew Mitchell actually said, which was 'nay-sayers'

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