Adding to the tale of lukewarm efforts by the UK government to meet their unquantified low-carbon targets, it was announced last week that they will discuss a ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds from sale. Since the UK’s commitment to the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit warming to 2°C by the turn of the century (though this arbitrary figure is somewhat symbolic as the globe is currently roughly 1.5°C hotter than pre-industrial levels), this new potential legislation is the fourth tepid whisper, after the plastic bag charge, a ban on microbeads which has yet to come into effect, and musings on a plastic bottle return scheme, to boost their ratings on climate action.
The meek yet widely publicised move harked by followers as brave and revolutionary in its idea is promptly nullified by the current governments other, less subtle and significantly more impactful, climate policies. Since 2015, the Conservative government have rounded up and extinguished many of the UK’s most crucial policies on the environment, and redirected 40% of the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s budget to nuclear waste management (no prizes for guessing the ulterior motive). As Energy and Climate Change Secretary, now Home Secretary Amber Rudd, cut subsidies to wind, solar and biomass energy, and the 2017-18 spring budget announced there would be no new subsidies to low carbon energy until 2025. Their fracking jollies have increased, adding sites of special interest to the list of potential new drilling zones; they removed loans set to combat energy efficiency in homes, the third most carbon costly area in Britain; and they reinstated the use of environmentally lethal pesticides known to kill birds and advantageous insects. All the while tax cuts to North Sea Oil have been increased and protected. Alongside scrapping environmental policies, they’ve made distant and vague promises to stop all avoidable plastic waste by 2042 and to ban diesel cars by 2040, which means you could buy a brand new diesel this year and it would be an old banger by the time the laws come around. And lest we forget the fleeting latte levy against non-recyclable disposable cups that was swept under the rug just as quickly after heavy lobbying by coffee companies.
The UK’s newest lukewarm piece-meal of a prospective policy against three unnecessary and easily avoidable surplus items, speaks volumes to the attitude of developed nations towards climate change. Perhaps its down to heritage, arrogance in the inheritance of technological advancement that beat other countries to the punch in the 19th century. An overweight ego convincing nations west of Europe that they will never lose power to developing markets because they started at the top. By being the first nations to identify areas for progress and build technology accordingly, they created their civilisations on the precipice of a new age out of necessity and ideals for the future, sparking the Industrial Revolution that catapulted nations like UK and USA to the top rung of advancement. These developed countries assume that their legacy and token contributions will keep them as front-runners two centuries on, but it’s action, not talk, that advances a nation.
As the scales shift from finite resources, which hark a future of more expensive energy, scarce assets and further global warming, to renewables, which will reduce dependence on geographically acquired resources; allow nations to be independent of each other for energy; and create a world with less pollution, harmful chemicals and environmental derogation, as too does the position of power. Nations once at the whim of the import prices of other countries with oil, refineries and energy infrastructure, are now becoming independent of the market. As rising economic nations build the means to their own source of energy, they pave their sovereign path to technological development, without the weight of an ego of ancestral privilege, out-of-date infrastructure and sectors designed around finite assets.
Developed nations have often assumed that to advance; emerging economies must follow in their footsteps along the same route, damning less advanced countries for hypothesised increases of global warming as they invest in finite resource industries. But the advancement and the mistakes of developed nations allow developing nations to leapfrog their pitfalls into the next arena. As China invests more than any other developed country this year into renewable resources; African countries ban plastic bags under penalty of a jail sentence; and Puerto Rico keeps running at 99% renewable energy for a third year; it becomes increasingly clear that the world will continue to move into the clean energy transition regardless of what the highest GDP countries do, and it seems Theresa May’s offer of banning plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds is a little underdeveloped.