As COP28, the world’s environmental summit, ended in Dubai, with an agreement calling on all nations to transition away from fossil fuels, the EU’s top environment chief - Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius, warned that far-right climate change deniers are placing the ‘Green Deal’ under attack. The Green Deal is seen as the blueprint for transformational change, setting legally binding targets for all sectors of the economy, aiming to make the European continent carbon-neutral by 2050. The package contains a wide range of legal instruments and policy measures, including support for restoring ecosystems and biodiversity, low-carbon transport, and sustainable food systems and healthy diets. Post-Brexit Britain is pursuing a similar plan. 

Depressingly, Commissioner Sinkevičius is probably correct in his forewarning. The COP28 deal is riddled with loopholes. The final text agreed by 200 countries in Dubai, included references to “transition fuels”, which is language more commonly used by fossil fuel interests to mean natural gas – and “carbon capture and utilisation and storage”, which clearly signifies the on-going burning of gas, oil and coal. There was also no progress on how the whole deal, costing trillions of dollars, will be paid for. These loopholes will be eagerly exploited by far-right political parties who will launch counter offensives against environmental policies. 

When he was president, Donald Trump famously re-opened sealed coal mines and unilaterally withdrew America from the landmark Paris Agreement to fight climate change. Trump claimed that "The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive." In December 2013, he said "Snowing in Texas and Louisiana, record setting freezing temperatures throughout the country and beyond. Global warming is an expensive hoax!" Joe Biden reinstated the Paris Agreement as one of his first acts as U.S. president, but it looks more than likely that Trump will be re-elected next year, re-invigorating America’s fossil fuel addiction.

Trump’s close friend, the former president of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro, who also said global warming was a hoax, allowed deforestation in the Brazilian rainforest to surge, effectively helping to dismantle the world’s air conditioning system. His neighbour the ultra-right-wing Javier Milei, the newly elected president of Argentina, who famously waved a chainsaw during his campaign rallies, is a climate change denier who many fear may now wield the chainsaw against Argentina’s rain forest. He says his government will withdraw Argentina from the Paris Agreement and will not support policies to fight climate change or decrease deforestation.

As heatwaves, deadly fires and catastrophic floods plague the world, ultra-right politicians single out the climate emergency as a key battleground for harvesting votes. Hungary’s right-wing prime minister Viktor Orban has dismissed EU plans to tackle climate change as a “Utopian fantasy.” The newly elected Dutch leader Geert Wilders has promised to put all climate legislation through “the shredder”, while, in a somewhat more rational approach, the French extreme-right leader Marine Le Pen favours a moratorium on wind power, which her party claims is “an ecological and economic aberration” that “offers no prospect of improvement”, replacing the wind turbines with zero carbon nuclear and hydrogen plants. Le Pen has an unlikely ally in the UK in the shape of Boris Johnson who has cast doubt on global warming, as has the former Chancellor and noted climate sceptic (Lord) Nigel Lawson, both prominent supporters of Brexit.

Environmental policy is devolved in the UK and since Brexit, the Scottish SNP/Green coalition government has pursued a plan for Scotland to achieve net-zero by 2045. The Scottish government has launched a controversial consultation on plans to replace fossil fuel heating systems in more than one million homes, with “environmentally friendly” central heating systems like heat pumps, by 2030. Zero Carbon Buildings Minister, the Green party’s Patrick Harvie, seemingly oblivious to the huge cost this would impose on householders, warns that properties that fail to comply could be hit with downgraded Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) ratings, which would diminish their sale value. Patrick Harvie’s carrot and stick approach (without the carrot), are simply part of a wider Green party agenda enshrined in the controversial Bute House agreement with the SNP, that propelled the minority Green party into ministerial office. 

Meanwhile Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has angered environmental campaigners and opened a policy gulf with Labour and the SNP/Greens, over his plans to grant new North Sea oil and gas licences, effectively undermining efforts to reach net zero. Some right-wing Tory backbenchers are even calling for huge oil fields in the Falklands to be fully exploited. The SNP are aghast. They used to trumpet the claim that it was ‘Scotland’s Oil’ being extracted from the North Sea. But now they have disowned this rich legacy, placing hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk and promising instead to turn Scotland into a giant wind factory, slamming the door on future zero-carbon nuclear generation and further oil and gas exploitation. Unfortunately, as almost all of our giant, industrial wind turbines are manufactured abroad by foreign companies and installed in Scotland mostly by foreign workers, with profits snared by foreign shareholders and foreign governments, the benefits to Scotland’s economy are questionable. 

It is also astonishing that supporters of renewables seek to justify this environmental catastrophe with weasel words about Scotland becoming a European leader in clean, green energy. There is nothing clean or green about marching huge steel turbines and pylons across pristine mountain landscapes and past some of Scotland's most historic castles and battlefields. The extremist Green lobby spreads the myth that turbines will end our dependency on fossil fuels. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, windfarms commit us to a fossil fuel future due to the need for constant baseload backup from nuclear plants in England or from gas-fired or coal-fired power plants, which have to be kept permanently ticking over so that they can kick in when the wind drops.

EU Commissioner Sinkevičius fears that the mainstream political movements in Europe may start to copy the anti-climate change policies of the populist parties. “Backsliding isn’t the answer,” he says. “The moment when traditional parties start to push the same points, that’s where we run into true danger, not only for the European Green Deal but for the European project as a whole.”