Looking Ahead to 2020: COP26, BoJo, and Trump

Read time: 4 mins
Donald Trump

Well, wasn’t 2019 another wild ride? The UK had two governments, three (or is it four?) tries at getting Brexit formally started, and made one major new climate commitment. So what’s in store for 2020?

In the current climate, the easy answer is ‘who knows?’. Nonetheless, there are a few agenda items on which DeSmog will be keeping a very close eye.

Boris Johnson and Brexit

Boris ‘get Brexit done’ Johnson has found himself a mandate, and he intends to use it. He’s already conducted a mini-reshuffle, with more promised early in 2020. There have also been rumours some departments are for the chop, with the formation of some ‘mega’ departments in their stead. 

As always, DeSmog will be looking to see who ends up leading what, and whether they’re friends or foes of the hard Brexit lobbyists from Tufton Street pushing to slash environmental regulations. Keep a particular eye out for Michael Gove, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Dominic Raab, Steve Baker, Liam Fox, and (a very outside bet) Owen Paterson — all of whom have Tufton ties.

Once the personnel are in place, the real fun of doing Brexit will begin. 

Boris has made the extremely ambitious promise of finalising a trade deal with the EU by the end of the year. With that in mind, the Prime Minister’s office appears already to be wavering over the issue of protecting environmental standards — if you don’t have many chips, you kind of need to play them all — which is just one of many items hard Brexit lobbyists have suggested altering in order for the UK to secure better terms with its polluting future partners.

Glasgow’s COP26

The UN’s annual climate talks in Madrid ended in, if not failure, then certainly without any sense of tangible progress. That has put the spotlight firmly on the next meeting in Glasgow in November. Negotiators will hope the atmosphere inside the halls will be better than the weather outside.

Is the UK ready? In one sense, yes. It has been busy strutting its climate-y stuff with a net zero pledge, climate emergency declaration (which came to nought but shush), and promises to ramp up the international community’s ambition. 

But in many other senses, it’s not at all ready. It keeps funding major fossil fuel projects abroad (to the tune of £2 billion), risks blowing its own carbon budgets, and has a Prime Minister with a penchant (historically at least) for climate science denial. 

People are so unsure of Boris’ real thoughts on the small issue of addressing the climate crisis that the government’s main advisory body wrote to him to point out: “You have the opportunity to lead a better international effort. But first, we must get our own house in order.”

He has 11 months to do it.

US Presidential election

The US kinda has its own thing going on in 2020. But it’s a thing with far-reaching ramifications.

Donald Trump will seek a second term in office — assuming the impeachment process doesn’t stop him — with voters set to go to the polls on 3 November 2020. That could be significant for the UK for a couple of reasons. 

First, the election is less than a week before COP26 is set to start. 

The US delegation could arrive in Glasgow with renewed purpose if it elects a President who actually thinks climate change is real and a problem. Or, if Trump wins, it could continue to stall and drag down the rest of the conference at which countries are required to formally increase their ambition.

Perhaps more immediately significant, though, is that Boris Johnson has firmly hitched his wagon to Trump’s horse. 

The Conservatives’ general election campaign was run on unashamedly populist lines, a la Trump. And the UK’s negotiators look set to make swathes of concessions to the US on food and possibly environmental standards in post-Brexit trade deal negotiations. If Trump is still in power, a deal may well be done — but at what cost to the UK’s environment and public health?

DeSmog will be watching and reporting on all this and more. To keep our content free for everyone, please support us by becoming a patron today.

Image: Gage Skidmore/Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

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