A Look Forward to the Environmental Events Set to Shape 2017

After 2016's dramatic environmental, natural, and political developments, what does 2017 hold in store for us? Here are just a few of the major environmental issues for the year ahead.

The new year will finally see the first exploratory wells being dug in the search for shale gas. After years of false starts, the process of fracking will start in Lancashire and Yorkshire by the summer. Large companies such as Cuadrilla and Third Energy will hope to confirm commercially viable quantities of the gas by the end of the year. This move goes ahead despite only 17% of people in Britain in favour of the controversial drilling.

Negotiations over Brexit will affect farming subsidies and possibly all European nature protection laws, including those for air and water pollution. Any dramatic reforms to the current environmental regulation will likely result in widespread opposition.

Air pollution, now known to kill nearly 40-50,000 people a year in Britain, will no doubt be high up on the political agenda early on in 2017. A new plan to ensure that the UK meets EU air quality limits is highly likely to propose more fully funded clean-air zones in major cities, tighter restrictions on some vehicles, and greater incentives and encouragement to walk and cycle.

London will also come under pressure to join Paris, Madrid, Athens, and Mexico City in pledging to ban diesel vehicles in the city centre within a few years. The growing number of cities aiming to be fossil-free within 30 years will put greater pressure on cities like London to follow suit.

Donald Trump's inauguration as president of the United States will cause fresh questions to be asked over the country’s commitment to the Paris global agreement to reduce emissions.

Trump has appointed climate sceptics to head all the key agencies responsible for either monitoring or dealing with climate change. What’s more, he is known to want to increase oil, gas, and coal production. If he pulls the US out of the Paris deal, it would do untold diplomatic damage with hundreds of countries who followed Obama’s leadership in 2015. Insiders expect him to ignore the voluntary commitments the US has made and to increase fossil fuel emissions.

Marine protection will rise up the political agenda with the first UN oceans conference in June. This will focus on the increasing quantities of plastics polluting the oceans, overfishing, the effects of climate change, and the need for more marine national parks.