There are two broad schools in British opposition to green taxes and subsidies. There’s the rather longer-running one, which focuses on the science, arguing that climate change is variously a myth or an outright con – and therefore that we don’t need to do anything. And there’s the more recent one, which has grown largely in the last decade, which focuses on the policy, arguing that it is ineffective, expensive and economically harmful – and therefore that we need to stop taking the wrong approach and do something less damaging and more effective.
Noticeably, the divide between the two is rather similar to that among Brexiteers. A longer-established, more attention-grabbing, approach, more commonly represented by UKIP, contrasted to a more recent and more practical strategy, more commonly heard in Conservative circles. The former directs great ire at the latter, and the latter tends to worry that the former is placing what feels good ahead and garners applause among the already-convinced ahead of what works politically.
Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Accord (something facilitated by Obama’s foolish decision to sign up with executive powers, rather than to win legislative approval) will undoubtedly be cheered by the former group. They’ll be particularly pleased by his justification that the Accord is a deliberate ploy to impoverish Americans and divert their money to China and India. He’s avoiding repeating his previous claim that climate change itself is a conspiracy, but his fans know where he is coming from on the topic, and will cheer him on heartily as a result.
The President’s decision poses problems for the other sceptics of green policy here in the UK, however. They’ve long battled to differentiate themselves from those who focus on the science, and to shake off associations in people’s minds with oil-guzzling Americans. Now their critiques of Paris face being tarred not only with those brushes, but with the implication that they must be on the same side as Trump himself – who remains a deeply unpopular figure among British voters.
As Matthew Sinclair, Head of Economics at Westbourne and author of Let Them Eat Carbon, a book making the economic case against laying green policy costs on ordinary consumers, puts it:
“The already-embattled sceptics of current climate policy in the UK will find it harder to make their case now that it is contaminated by association with Donald Trump. Too much effort has been spent making a less than credible scientific case and the criticisms of the high cost and low effectiveness of the current policy agenda has got lost, easy to caricature as part of an amateurish rejection of the science.”
“The economic interests in favour of revising the current policy framework contract in the UK each year under the pressure of high energy prices, while the lobby for continuing tends to grow. There will be fresh showdowns over the cost of energy, but they will be fought over refinements to something approximating current UK decarbonisation policy.”
Those in the UK who hope to change costly green policies already faced an uphill struggle already – Trump just made it harder.