Sunak’s climate report card

This is an important week in the green calendar. It not only marks the beginning of the 28th annual UN climate conference, but also the first 'global stocktake' under the Paris Climate Agreement. 

For those who don't know, this is the first time that countries will engage in a comprehensive assessment of their advancement - or lack of - towards their emissions-cutting goals, set in 2015, to limit global warming to 1.5C. 

With leaders from all over the world gathering in the UAE to take stock of global progress, we at B4B thought it was the perfect time to do an appraisal of our own - after all, you can’t trust a child to mark their own homework.

Queue: a whistle-stop tour of Rishi's regrettable record on tackling climate change.

A 48-hour honeymoon period

When Rishi Sunak took the helm as the UK’s new PM in October 2022 many expressed a sign of relief. Although his environmental record as a back-bencher and then Chancellor wasn’t exactly stellar, many campaigners were cautiously optimistic that he could, and would, bring the UK’s climate fight back from the brink. 

Or at a minimum, do a better job than his problematic predecessor, Liz Truss. Shouldn’t have been that hard…right? 

Climate credentials under question

Within 48 hours of stepping into his new role, Sunak was already raising eyebrows over his climate commitment as a result of his decisions to: 

  1. Remove Cop26 President Alok Sharma from Cabinet 
  2. Demote the position of environment minister by stripping its entitlement to attend Cabinet 
  3. Pull out of attending Cop27 in Egypt 

Sunak seemed to be sending a clear message: the environment would be receiving a smaller billing in his new government. 

The first u-turn of many

Sunak ended up u-turning on his decision not to attend Cop27, but not before he received a torrent of criticism from the international community, as well as from those within his own party, parliament and the public. 

A Cumbrian coal mine 

Two weeks later, as December rolled round, it emerged that Sunak’s government had given the green-light to the UK’s first new coal mine in 30 years; a move labelled  “absolutely indefensible” by John Gummer, chair of the Climate Change Committee and former Conservative Environment Secretary.

The mine - currently still in the planning stages -  is set to produce an estimated 400,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year, increasing the UK’s emissions by the equivalent of putting 200,000 cars on the road. 

Goodbyes from Goldsmith 

After a few months of comparative calm (on the climate front at least), things heated up again in June 2023 with the resignation of Environment Minister Zac Goldsmith over government “apathy” towards the environment. 

Goldsmith’s damning letter of resignation outlined how the “UK has visibly stepped off the world stage and withdrawn our leadership on climate”, and ended by stating that “the problem is not that the government is hostile to the environment, it is that you, our prime minister, are simply uninterested.” Ouch.

Despite Downing Street denials, what followed over the next few months only seemed to reinforce Goldsmith’s conclusion. 

Long-term solutions or short-term political opportunism? 

July ended with Sunak vowing to “max out” oil and gas from the North Sea. 

While September started with reports that Sunak had chosen to skip the annual UN General Assembly - the first PM in a decade to do so -  to avoid facing rejection from the climate ambition summit over his poor climate record. 

This was followed, a week or so later, by a hastily arranged press conference in which Sunak made a series of major u-turns on key net zero policies, which included postponing the ban on purchasing new petrol cars, as well as delaying the target of eliminating gas boilers. 

Roll-backs were met with despair from climate scientists who warned that the UK was looking less and less likely to meet its legally binding net-zero targets, as well as anger from UK industry who rely on long-term stability to attract investment.

Sunak claimed measures were about pragmatism not politics, but I think most can agree that the rollback, framed as an essential trade-off, was really just an attempt to draw up dividing lines with Labour. 

A royal game of charades

And then there was the King’s Speech. A rather awkward affair in which Charles, a lifelong climate warrior, was forced to announce the government’s intention to introduce legislation allowing oil and gas companies to bid for new licences to drill for fossil fuels every year.

Maybe we were projecting, or maybe  he just has a questionable poker face, but back at B4B HQ we could’ve sworn we noticed a few looks of scorn as the King made the announcement.

A missed opportunity for Net Zero 

This was closely followed by the Autumn Statement; a moment which was less about what the government did, and more about what they did not do. 

Despite rumours that the Government was going to make commitments to a carbon border tax - an essential measure to help UK industry decarbonise - nothing materialised. And once again, UK industry was left wanting, and expecting, more from Sunak.

Debate about Cop28

Which finally brings me back to the present day and Cop28. Never has a UK Prime Minister attended a Cop summit with his own country’s climate credentials so maligned. 

It is therefore rather ironic that Sunak chose to open his national address today by stating that “the world is just not moving fast enough”, and that credibility is being undermined by “climate politics”. If only he would listen to his own advice!

What does this all mean? 

As should now be clear, if it wasn’t before, Sunak has a pretty shameful record when it comes to tackling climate change. 

Despite boasting that the UK is a “climate leader” with “world-beating” achievements and the “best place in the world to invest in the green industries of the future”, there is little evidence to support these claims.

Over the past year, he has continuously rolled-back on key green commitments, whilst assuring the public that the UK will still meet net-zero targets, but gives no detail on how this will be done. 

I guess that shouldn’t surprise us anymore. The integrity that Sunak insists is central to his character and style of government, went missing a long time ago…or maybe it was never there in the first place? Hard to know.

What we do know, however, is that his failure to take the issue of climate change seriously is just the latest indication that he is unfit to lead our country. He is out of touch, out of ideas, and out of time. And the public, not to mention the planet, is paying the price. 

We can’t wait any longer for change and that’s why at the next election, Best for Britain is organising the most powerful tactical voting operation the nation has ever seen at GetVoting.

And in the meantime, think about becoming a monthly Best for Britain supporter. For every new supporter that signs up to give £10 or more a month, Best for Britain will plant a tree in your name, in our pro-European forest, which will be around far longer than the current Government with their selfish short-termist policies.