In Review: 2016 Was Mainly but Not Entirely Bad News for Climate Change


So, 2016 happened.

Fair to say, it wasn’t exactly a vintage year for action on climate change.

Brace yourselves, here’s DeSmog UK’s review of the year. It wasn’t all bad! (But mainly it was, let’s be honest).

Big Year for Exxon

Oil giant Exxon has had a rollercoaster ride this year.

DeSmog UK started the year revealing that Exxon had spent millions lobbying the European Commission and working to influence climate policy as a member of five influential think tanks.

That’s on top of the millions it gave to UK universities and the special access it gained to lobby the UK government against the electric vehicles.

Meanwhile, the company was gearing up to face the ongoing Exxon Knew investigation across the pond.

In April, a DeSmogBlog investigation revealed that Exxon actually knew about the dangers its products posed to the climate years earlier than previously thought.

That revelation came as two more US Attorneys General announced plans to investigate whether Exxon had deceived the public and its investors by lying about its knowledge of the risks of climate change, taking the tally of states investigating the company to three.

While Exxon was initially cooperative, the company gradually went on the attack. In July, a Congressman who has taken money from both Exxon and Koch Industries tried (and failed) to get information out of investigators. And in September, Exxon lobbyists met with Republican Attorneys General to work out how to counter the court orders.

Just as it looked like the story had paused for a much-needed winter break, Trump won the US presidential election and promptly picked Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State.

That could be great news for Russia. It’s probably less good news for the UK, which faces the prospect of Tillerson and foreign secretary Boris Johnson (who has a penchant for questioning climate science) bashing out any future USUK bilateral climate deals.

Brexit and Climate Deniers Unite

In June, Brexit happened. You probably heard about it.

It led to one prime minister, David Cameron, resigning. Another, Theresa May, taking office without an election. And a whole bunch of politicians connected to a wide network of euro-sceptic climate deniers being put into positions of power.

It’s all very messy. Fortunately, DeSmog UK has mapped it all out for you.

View the full interactive map in detail on Little Sis

As DeSmog UK reported in June, the reach of this small group of Brexit climate deniers extends to include prominent politicians such as foreign secretary Boris Johnson and environment secretary Andrea Leadsom, as well as some big media outlets.

Vote Leave’s victory certainly seemed to embolden the UK’s climate deniers. Particularly after May swiftly abolished DECC, the Department for Energy and Climate Change, the same week she entered office.

Nigel Lawson’s climate denying Global Warming Policy Foundation booked the UK’s most illustrious scientific institution, the Royal Society, for its annual lecture in October – much to the chagrin of its scholars. To no one’s surprise, coal baron Matt Ridley delivered a lecture riddled with unscientific nonsense, which was robustly discredited by scientists.

And in December, a report written by a former UKIP researcher with ties to the climate denier network said the UK could face blackouts this winter. Controversial MP Grant Shapps presented on behalf of a ‘group’ of MPs that didn’t actually exist, It was also resoundingly rejected by experts.

UK Climate Deniers Cheerlead for Trump

Another story that probably crossed your radar was the US presidential election.

Donald Trump, the man that is now president-elect, is a climate denier. And somewhat unsurprisingly, he’s surrounding himself with other climate deniers.

That will no doubt delight infamous climate deniers, Koch Industries, which has links to many of them, as this DeSmogBlog map shows.

DeSmog UK has outlined who Trump’s picks are, what their jobs do, and how it could affect the UK.

One person hoping to make friends will be UK international trade secretary Liam Fox, who visited US climate denying think tank the Heritage Foundation within weeks of being appointed to the position post-Brexit, DeSmog UK revealed in November.

He was swiftly followed by Brexiteer MEP Daniel Hannan, who blamed the current absence of a UKUS trade deal on “spoiled millennials”.

Those are just two examples of politicians that will see Trump’s tenancy in the White House as an opportunity to solidify a burgeoning de-regulation, isolationist, anti-climate science network on both sides of the Atlantic.

Good News! Some Deals Were Signed

But it really wasn’t all bad. Here are a few things that are worth remembering as we move in 2017.

The UK finally ratified the Paris Agreement (albeit after it had formally come into force), as did lots of other countries.

That at least put the deal on a relatively sure footing before Trump’s election threatened to blow November’s international negotiations in Marrakech out of the water.

At the meeting, China stepped up to suggest it doesn’t care what Trump and the US does, it’s going to continue with its decarbonisation plans. The UK struggled to get its voice heard above the din, however, perhaps signalling its new negotiating reality post-Brexit.

Just prior to the conference, in October, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signed off a nationwide carbon price. Though he did also give the government’s blessing to a new tar sands oil pipeline the week before, and yet another pipeline the month after.

Also in October, countries struck a deal to cap emissions from aviation. That was quickly followed by an agreement to curb emissions of hydrofluorocarbons, which could prevent a 0.5°C rise in temperature by 2100.

Those deals perhaps offer a glimmer of hope for 2017.

Whether next year is good or bad, DeSmog UK will be there to investigate the influence of money and misinformation on the global climate and energy debate, and to report as the impacts of these seismic shifts unfold.

Follow us on twitter and facebook to make sure you’re always up to date. And sign up to our weekly newsletter below for regular round-ups.

Happy holidays.

Main image credit: Funk Dooby via Flickr CC BYSA

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Mat was DeSmog's Special Projects and Investigations Editor, and Operations Director of DeSmog UK Ltd. He was DeSmog UK’s Editor from October 2017 to March 2021, having previously been an editor at Nature Climate Change and analyst at Carbon Brief.

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