What Does a Hung Parliament Mean for Energy and Climate Change Issues?

10 Downing St door

Who saw that coming? Yeah, neither did we.

The Conservatives will return to parliament with the most MPs of any party, but without an overall majority. The next few hours will see Theresa May scramble to try and find the votes she needs to form a government.

Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) have already offered the support of their MPs. Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and the Green Party have ruled out going into coalition with the Conservatives.

Not much is known about the DUP's position on climate change, but the party did once appoint a climate science denier as environment secretary in the Northern Ireland assembly. And their 2017 election manifesto does not mention the words climate change or environment.

Despite overall defeat, the result is being hailed as a victory for Labour, who started the election 20-points behind the Conservatives in the polls. If nothing else, the election has secured Jeremy Corbyn’s future as leader of the opposition – and possibly a minority government, should May fail to cobble together a working majority.

So, what does all this mean for climate and energy policy in the UK?

Here’s a breakdown of what we know so far.

Brexit

One thing that seems clear is Theresa May no longer has a strong mandate for a hard Brexit. One way or another she will have to negotiate with the other parties to get things done.

And perhaps it’s here that some green gains could be made.

One clue for where the environmental red-lines might fall could be in their manifestos. Here’s what each party had to say their pledge was specifically regarding Brexit and the environment.

Conservatives: After we have left the European Union, we will form our energy policy based not on the way energy is generated but on the ends we desire – reliable and affordable energy, seizing the industrial opportunity that new technology presents and meeting our global commitments on climate change…we will improve our environment as we leave the European Union and take control of our environmental legislation again… Protections given to consumers and the environment by EU law will continue to be available in UK law at the point at which we leave the EU.

Labour: Ensure there is no detrimental change to…environmental protections as a result of Brexit.

SNP: SNP MPs will work to prevent the threat of Brexit being used by the UK to reduce commitments to tackle climate change or to undermine the European Union’s efforts to fight climate change and protect the environment…We will defend the interests of environmental scientists from across the EU who contribute so much to the success of Scotland’s research institutes.

Lib Dems: The European Union has created the highest environmental standards in the world. We have a duty to future generations to protect our environment and tackle climate change. Liberal Democrats will ensure that everything is done to maintain those high standards in UK law, including the closest possible co-operation on climate and energy policy…When the terms of our future relationship with the EU have been negotiated…we will put that deal to a vote of the British people in a referendum, with the alternative option of staying in the EU on the ballot paper.

Green Party: Ensure that existing environmental laws are retained, or enhanced, no matter our future relationship with the European Union.

So overall, as things move forward it’s looking like it will be a lot harder for significant environmental deregulation to take place without a fight. Meaning staying strong on environmental policies could be an easy win for the opposing parties.

Green Party leader Caroline Lucas has tweeted “To be clear, Greens will *never* support a Tory government #HopeoverHate”.

In addition, both the Lib Dems and Labour have clear positions on maintaining strong environmental standards post Brexit.  

Brexit was scheduled to begin in two weeks time, whether this actually happens now is a big question mark. Or if it does start on time, things are likely to be a lot messier than before.

Either way, the Conservatives’ failure to gain a majority means May can no longer push through a hard Brexit deal without facing the other parties – inevitably to get anything done, be it sorting out a hung parliament or simply sorting out how the country leaves the EU, negotiations amongst the parties will be needed.  

Fracking

And what about fracking? The Conservatives were the only main party to support the growth of a British shale industry.

The election result leaves that pledge, as with all of the party’s manifesto promises, in the balance.

Perhaps the most interesting result from a fracking perspective was Derbyshire North East, where the anti-fracking Conservative candidate Lee Rowley beat pro-fracking Labour incumbent Natascha Engel by just under 3,000 votes.

INEOS has applied for planning permission for a drilling rig in the constituency to assess the site’s suitability for fracking. The company’s path may have become slightly more rocky with Rowley as MP, and the Conservative party short of an overall majority.

Another constituency where INEOS is hoping to frack is Mansfield County, and that experienced the same result, with Conservative Ben Bradley beating Labour incumbent Alan Meale by just over 1,000 votes.

INEOS has a license for shale gas exploration at the edge of Sherwood Forest in the constituency, within 200 metres of a symbolically important 1,000 year old tree linked to the Robin Hood folklore.

Unlike Derbyshire North East, the candidates’ positions followed their parties’ manifestos, with Bradley saying fracking was “worth exploring in the very least”.

In Fylde, the constituency on the frontline of the UK’s efforts to prevent fracking, Conservative incumbent Mark Menzies was comfortably returned to parliament. Labour almost doubled its vote in the constituency, with Green party candidate and anti-fracking protester Tina Rothery receiving around 1,200 votes.

The North Sea

Meanwhile it was a night of drama in Scotland, with some big names losing their seats and the Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Nicola Sturgeon admitting she would have to reflect on mistakes made in the party’s campaign.

That could have significant ramifications for the future of the North Sea oil and gas industry.

The SNP doubled-down on its promise to bring back jobs to the industry. But it was up against a Conservative party that had promised further handouts to the industry, and promised to “continue to support the industry and build on the unprecedented support already provided to the oil and gas sector”.

The SNP’s energy and climate change spokesperson Callum McCaig lost his Aberdeen South seat to Conservative Ross Thomson by almost 5,000 votes. The Conservative’s share of the vote in the seat jumped by around 20 percent compared to 2015.

SNP deputy leader Angus Robertson also lost his Moray seat to Conservative Douglas Ross by more than 4,000 votes. Ross had previously said that the oil industry continues to rely on Westminster for security as oil prices spike and dip – a relationship that he says the Conservatives are most suited to protect.

In Orkney and Shetland, veteran Liberal Democrat Alistair Carmichael comfortably held on to a seat the SNP had been targeting.

Carmichael considers North Sea oil and gas to be of “massive strategic importance to the UK economy”, which will please the multiple big oil companies with projects in the constituency, from ExxonMobil to Total.

The SNP’s former leader Alex Salmond also lost his Gordon seat to the Conservatives, one of 13 seats the party won in Scotland. Labour also won seven seats in Scotland, largely at the SNP’s expense.

Climate Science Deniers

It was a decent night for most of the UK’s climate science deniers, however.

Shipley’s Philip Davies and Christchurch’s Christopher Chope both retained their seats. They are now the only two MPs that voted against the Climate Change Act in 2008 left in parliament.

Conservative David Nuttall lost his Bury North seat to Labour’s James Frith, however. Nuttall signed a letter urging the government to delay signing the UK’s fifth carbon budget last year. He also signed a letter in March accusing the BBC of bias in its Brexit reporting.

Frith previously told DeSmog UK he is “the opposite to David Nuttall in many different ways and views”, including on energy and environmental issues.

Climate change is real, government efforts to date aren’t enough but Labour has good history with Kyoto, emissions targets, carbon capture,” he said. Frith also does not support fracking, and is in favour of economic incentives for renewable energy projects.

Nuttall is the only MP with questionable views on climate science, or ties to a network of organisations that promote misinformation on the subject based out of 55 Tufton Street, to lose their seat.

That includes former environment secretary Owen Paterson, who comfortably won his North Shropshire seat. Paterson once delivered the GWPF’s annual lecture, and was a member of the Vote Leave campaign, which is based out of the headquarters of the UK’s climate science denial network at 55 Tufton St

But there were some notable climate science deniers who stepped down.

Conservative Bim Afolabi comfortably won the seat vacated by his party colleague and well-known climate science denier Peter Lilley. Gillian Keegan also held the Conservative safe seat vacated by Christopher Chope, who was one of only five MPs to vote against the Climate Change Act.

Conservative Giles Watling also took the Clacton seat from UKIP, where the climate science denying party previously had its only MP in Douglas Carswell (who stepped down this election).

Two MPs that are very keen on the UK taking action to tackle climate change that managed to hold on to their seats were Green MP Caroline Lucas who won with an increased majority and Labour's Alan Whitehead in Southampton Test. His seat was declared late in the morning, and was one that confirmed UK voters would wake up to a hung parliament.

Main image credit: Royal Opera House Covent Garden via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

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