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The Tory–DUP deal could be a disaster for the environment

Though more than 50% of voters went for left-wing parties, what they have ended up with is a government even more regressive than the last – especially on climate change.

Theresa May stands with Damian Green, Arlene Foster, Nigel Dodds, Jeffrey Donaldson and Gavin Williamson, after the DUP agreed a deal to support the minority Conservative government. Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA Wire/PA Images/ All rights reserved.Climate change, caused by humans, is a “myth” based on unproven “dodgy” science according to Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MP Sammy Wilson. Theresa May is now counting on his party and its 10 MPs to help prop up her government.

The cruel irony in the recent general election is that, while over 50% of people who voted did so for the more left-wing parties, what they might actually get is a government even more regressive than the one before, including on climate change and the environment.

The DUP

Over 750,000 people signed a petition opposing a deal with the DUP who have a far from progressive record on a range of social issues, including LGBTI rights and abortion. DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson used to work for racist politician Enoch Powell after he moved to Northern Ireland.

A lot of post-election reporting on the DUP has focused on them as 'climate change deniers,' but, aside from Wilson (more on him later), the DUP's approach to climate change and the environment could be described as dangerously indifferent.

Their general election manifesto had no mention of the environment or climate change. Its section on “a secure and sustainable energy supply for Northern Ireland,” made a passing mention of renewable energy but no commitments to supporting it.

The DUP's approach to climate change and the environment could be described as dangerously indifferent.

According to their voting records, the other DUP MPs who remain in their seats after the election have been largely absent from Westminster votes related to the environment and climate change. When they have voted, Nigel Dodds, Ian Paisley, David Simpson, Gregory Campbell, Gavin Robinson, Jim Shannon and Donaldson have all had mixed to weak records – though some have signed Early Day Motions in support of things like the solar industry and human rights and environmental defenders.

Despite having greenhouse gas emissions disproportionately higher than its share of the UK population and GDP, Northern Ireland remains the only part of the UK without legally binding climate change targets, something which has been partly blamed on DUP lobbying.

“Under the DUP leadership Northern Ireland has become a wild west for the environment. Northern Ireland is the dirty corner of the UK with some of the biggest illegal waste sites and mines in Europe. The pro-fracking DUP is a climate pariah,” said James Orr, Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland Director immediately after the general election result.

“Theresa May must not allow the DUP to further weaken her already inadequate manifesto commitments to maintain environmental protections and preserve nature.”

Hanging over all this is the Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme which was set up to encourage a switch to biomass heating when DUP First Minister was the responsible minister. Businesses and farmers ended up being paid more in subsidies than they spent on their heating, resulting in the “cash for ash” scandal from which the Northern Ireland Assembly is still reeling, leaving the people of Northern Ireland in limbo.

Sammy Wilson

The DUP's Sammy Wilson larking about. DUP Photos/Flickr. Some rights reserved.Wilson is perhaps the most enthusiastic of the DUP MPs about climate change and renewable energy, according to his voting record, but unfortunately this enthusiasm swings in a dangerous direction. He has generally voted against measures to prevent climate change, put more regulation on fracking and the taxing of polluters.

In 2008, Wilson was peculiarly appointed the Minister of the Environment for the Northern Ireland Executive but received a vote of no confidence in February 2009 after banning TV adverts aimed at reducing energy consumption.

Wilson has generally voted against measures to prevent climate change.

Wilson has praised Donald Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris climate deal as “wise” and is a cheerleader for fossil fuels, saying: “I don’t care about Co2 emissions to be quite truthful”. He has signed Early Day Motions in support of coal and accused anti-fracking campaigners of being “green Luddites,” arguing that "the UK needs to exploit fully the natural resources available to it.”

In good company

The government has said it is “committed to ensuring that we become the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it,” but its record on climate change and the environment has been dismal, from inaction on air pollution to backing fracking and a plan to sell off state-owned forests for profit.

As exposed by Brendan Montague on openDemocracy, donors with environmental degradation and dirty energy on their hands backed the Tory election campaign to the tune of thousands of pounds.

May's cabinet reshuffle choices do not show promise of improvement. Greg Clark is staying on as Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, someone whose voting record on measures to prevent climate change is so terrible that it his ministry’s having climate change among its responsibilities can only be seen as a cruel joke.

Michael Gove has been drafted back into government as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. While he was the minister for education he tried, unsuccessfully, to get climate change dropped from the geography curriculum and has voted against measures to combat climate change and in favour of selling off state-owned forests.

A crucial time

The political climate is far from favourable to environmental protection and action on climate change.

The issues were largely ignored in this year's general election campaign, the President of the US seems hell bent on environmental and social catastrophe – with little opposition from our Prime Minister. As the UK leaves the European Union, regulations on the environment could be unpicked and new trade deals could put prioritise profit over the wellbeing of people and the planet.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization expects that between 2030 and 2050, climate change will cause 250,000 additional deaths each year – those likely to die are mainly black and brown people who live far enough away that politicians in the UK will never have to answer to them face-to-face.

About the author

Amy Hall is a freelance journalist based in Brighton and a columnist for openDemocracyUK, writing about the environment, democracy, corporate power and the British state in the wake of Brexit. She is a member of Shoal Collective, a newly-formed cooperative of independent writers and researchers writing for social justice and a world beyond capitalism.

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