After a long, hot summer beset by record temperatures, drought and deadly fires, imagine my shock, on returning to the European parliament, to be confronted with a report that denies the reality of climate change. Given it could influence the allocation of the next round of environment funding under the EU’s Life programme, it is deeply disturbing to see such a report, based on wholly discredited science, wending its way down the corridors of Brussels.
Some of the claims made by the report’s author, the Ukip MEP Stuart Agnew, are, frankly, pretty hair-raising. For instance, he claims that the effect of CO2 levels on our climate is “negligible”, and that it is “one of agriculture’s greatest friends”. Agnew claims there is a lack of concentration of CO2 and as a result there is no problem for the EU to solve.
So how could it be that someone with a track record of shameful ignorance of the science of climate change ends up being assigned the task of compiling this report?
Unbelievably, the decision to appoint Agnew was met with support from Christian Democrat, Conservative and Liberal members of the European parliament’s agriculture committee, while the Socialists and Democrats, supported by the Greens, attempted to challenge the decision to give Agnew the leading role.
Quite rightly, in response to this news, climate experts have reacted with disbelief and anger. Bob Ward, from the Grantham Research Institute on climate change and environment at the London School of Economics, said: “There is not a single scientific institution in the world that would agree with this daft assessment. This document demonstrates how Ukip’s climate change denial is putting at risk the lives and livelihoods of people in the UK and across the European Union.” Dave Reay, professor of carbon management at the University of Edinburgh, also ridiculed the report: “The hackneyed, pseudo-scientific arguments here would make the dinosaurs blush. This will be a wonderful resource when [my students] discuss the ill-informed ideas that bounce around the echo chamber of climate change denial.”
What this fiasco reveals is the huge threat to rational climate action posed by the rise of the far right. It also shows the risks from Brexit, as the links between climate denial and Brexit are well documented. For example,the long-standing supporter of Brexit and arch-neoliberal Nigel Lawson founded the Global Warming Policy Foundation to oppose climate change mitigation policies. He labelled the Kyoto protocol “wrongheaded”, and has called for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to be shut down.
Lawson may be considered an irrelevant dinosaur, though he still manages to platform his nonsense at regular intervals on the BBC. But the man who Conservative MP Anna Soubry declared was now running the country, the hardline Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, has blamed high energy prices on “climate alarmism” and has said it was unrealistic for scientists to project future climate changes, just as it was difficult for meteorologists to correctly predict the weather. Meanwhile, Nigel Farage, adding to a litany of ill-informed comments on climate change, earlier this year declared that the “beast from the east” was proof that global warming wasn’t real. And of course, favouring supposed “alternative facts” on climate change is a prejudice shared by other far-right groups, most notably Donald Trump’s circle.
Given the dangers posed by the far right and the very real threat of a significant bloc of populist, climate change-denying MEPs after next year’s European elections, it is time for those of us who back the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change to take back control. That is why I joined other politicians, scientists, academics and campaigners in signing a letter pledging we would refuse to debate those who deny that human-caused climate change is real. We can no longer give voice to the pseudo-science of climate change deniers; we must urgently move the debate on to how we address the causes and effects of dangerous climate breakdown.
The large right and centre-right groups in the European parliament could and should have blocked Ukip from taking charge of a report on climate change. We can only hope that the mainstream groups in parliament – right, left and centre – that are likely to continue to control the majorities will show a greater degree of responsibility in future.
• Molly Scott Cato is the Green MEP for the south-west of England