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by Chris Marshall
12 October 2022
Political climate: There are worrying signs the government will undermine net zero

Fort Myers in Florida after Hurricane Ian hit | Credit: Alamy

Political climate: There are worrying signs the government will undermine net zero

While casually doomscrolling through Twitter recently, I came across a video that stopped me in my tracks.

Filmed during Hurricane Ian’s recent battering of the Florida coast, it shows the impact of the storm surge in Fort Myers Beach, a small town around 150 miles from Miami.

Initially, the time lapse footage shows a street lined with palm trees and telegraph poles. A car with its headlights on drives past a sign advertising beachfront parking as the wind picks up and begins to wash spray onto the tarmac. A small red property sits exposed at the side of the road. 

Quickly, however, the situation begins to deteriorate. It’s hard to know over what period the video was filmed, but within 14 seconds of the footage beginning, most of the scene is under water. By the 25-second mark, the wind has picked up and what was once a town is now part of the ocean. Forty seconds in, only the tops of the palm trees are visible above the waves. 

By the time the two-and-a-half minute clip has reached its midway point, the small red property has been washed away. At the video’s end the water level has finally fallen, leaving behind not a town but a hellscape. Senator Marco Rubio has said Fort Myers “no longer exists”.

This is the reality of climate change, a warming world where temperatures soar and storms become deadlier. Where millions are displaced in Pakistan and wildfires gut homes in suburban London.

Yet even before the flood waters have receded elsewhere, the political will to tackle the climate crisis appears to be slowing ebbing away.

Last November, I joined thousands of other media and delegates at COP26 in Glasgow. The UN summit was memorably described as the “world’s last best chance” to avert catastrophic warming.

While the final agreement was watered down amid pressure from China and India, major breakthroughs were nonetheless reached on areas such as emissions and deforestation.

But with just weeks until COP27 in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El Sheikh, there are some worrying signs the UK is preparing to row back on some of its commitments. It’s been confirmed King Charles will not attend the event following “advice” from Prime Minister Liz Truss. 

While Buckingham Palace was publicly sanguine, it appeared someone in the Royal household was irked enough to leak the story to The Sunday Times, which splashed on the decision. It comes amid speculation Truss could be about to water down the government’s pledge on reaching net zero by 2050. 

Just days into the job, Truss told journalists she was willing to take decisions that would make her unpopular. In backing Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s disastrous mini-Budget, she showed she was as good as her word. She later reversed plans to scrap the top rate of tax proving that unlike her political hero, this lady is for turning. 

But while going back on her tax plans was the right thing to do for the economy, the same cannot be said for the short-termism of jettisoning climate commitments. 

Our children look set to inherit an uncertain future, one where owning their own home or even being able to rent one looks increasingly difficult. We shouldn’t also be saddling them with a climate mess which they themselves did not create. 

It may be too late for the residents of Fort Myers, but we still have time to protect ourselves – and future generations – from the coming storm. 

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