Brexit will dominate the UK election; can climate pledges truly change how we vote?

It’s unlikely there is a soul in the country who hasn’t heard; a General Election is coming on December 12.

The implications for low carbon businesses, which will be seeking election for the greenest government, are intriguing. While each party’s stance on Brexit may be the defining campaign issue, there is more happening under the surface that might yet disrupt the status quo.

The quiet undercurrent of climate activism

For a start, this new poll argues that climate change will make a difference. ClientEarth says over half (54%) of Britons say it will affect the way they vote.

Nearly two-thirds (63%) said politicians are not talking enough about climate change, and 70% think the climate emergency demands more urgent action.

Crucially, those polled also want to bring forward the 2050 deadline for reducing UK emissions to net zero (61%) and 72% want better carbon-reduction targets and to make sure planning decisions support them.

“It’s clear the public wants to see more from the UK government: more ambition to achieve the goal of zero net emissions and more concrete action to stop current carbon reduction targets from going unmet,” commented ClientEarth’s Jonathan Church.

Can any of it help low carbon business?

When you look at the ClientEarth report in detail, it evidences a remarkable drive among UK citizens on climate. But translating that into potential election results isn’t simple.

For example, 74% of 18 to 24 years olds said climate change would greatly influence who they vote for, that’s up from 54% for the total sample. But how many young people will vote?

On energy, 52% of us want the new government to focus on solar and then offshore wind regarding how we power our country. But will that alter our stance at the ballot box?

How do all these numbers, across varying age ranges, related once again to who actually turns out to vote, potentially affect the end result?

You’ve guessed it; we can’t know for sure. One truth might be that the votes may be won by whoever manages to push their environmental messaging across strongly enough.

But there’s another possibility; we evidently care about climate change, but do we care about ending Brexit uncertainty more? And how will that translate into the endgame numbers at Westminster?

The next government will (probably) be low carbon friendly

Underlying public opinion and the existing promises of the main parties suggest that, to be frank, whoever makes it into Downing St is likely to maintain a strong environmental portfolio.

This is encouraging news for low carbon business. Realistically, the undoing of environmental promises on the likes of net zero 2050 is extremely unlikely, given both public sentiment and the realisation that climate change matters to voters and to UK PLC.

The telling irony is that none of this can get top billing until the spinning pendulum of Brexit is finally concluded one way or another.

The key is both businesses and, on ClientEarth’s figures, most UK citizens really care about low carbon and climate change.

But none of this gets priority until Brexit is out of the way. That might make people think very strangely indeed. Is a vote to finalise Brexit actually a vote for low carbon, as concluding Brexit makes more space for other issues in Westminster?

Or is a vote based entirely on climate policy ultimately more meaningful and telling than voting again on the ongoing Brexit saga?

No one knows how voters will behave when polling day comes. What is clear is that voting and political certainty have been fundamentally changed by Brexit, maybe forever.