20 July 2023

Sunak’s ‘lackadaisical’ approach to climate criticised by experts

20 July 2023

Rishi Sunak has been warned the UK is being seen internationally as a “laggard” on climate policy as experts criticised his Government’s “lackadaisical” approach.

Pressure is growing on the Prime Minister to step up action as climate change drives extreme weather around the world, with Europe sweltering in record-breaking temperatures.

Britain’s leadership on tackling climate change has “faded” and Mr Sunak must make a “clear statement that it is important”, said Lord Nicholas Stern, who led a seminal 2006 review on the economics of climate change.

We should be leaders, we can be leaders, but it's faded

Lord Stern, alongside 14 other figures who were involved in the UN Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow, wrote a letter to Mr Sunak to express their “deep concern for your government’s lackadaisical approach to international climate, nature, and environment issues”.

The letter, seen by the PA news agency, also said: “At a time of multiple and interrelated global crises, and growing distrust between the Global North and South, it seems, inconceivably, that the UK’s interest in the world beyond its borders has narrowed.”

The signatories including Laurence Tubiana, a key architect of the landmark Paris Agreement, warned that without efforts to curb global warming the UK could struggle to compete in the global green economy.

A similar letter sent to the Prime Minister earlier this week by more than a hundred British businesses, including Unilever and Tesco, demanded faster action to achieve net zero.

Asked whether there is a problem with this Government, Lord Stern told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme: “Yes, there is”.

At the time of the 2021 Cop26 summit, under Boris Johnson’s premiership, the UK was “out in front and leading the world and it was a major step forward”, he said.

“But sadly since then it has faded and we’ve approved a coal mine … in the north-west of England, we’re approving exploration for further oil and gas, we’re not moving very fast on insulating homes.

“What you got then is the UK changing from being out in front a little over a year-and-a-half ago, now to being seen internationally as a laggard and much less important.

“We should be leaders, we can be leaders, but it’s faded.”

The professor, who chairs the London School of Economics’ Grantham Research Institute on climate change, urged Mr Sunak to make a “clear statement that it is important, and this is how the UK is going to move forward”.

The Government has insisted that the UK is a world leader on net zero, cutting emissions faster than any other G7 country.

But Lord Deben, who has just left his role as chairman of the Climate Change Committee, said that is “entirely wrong”.

He told the same programme: “It was 18 months ago, probably. Now it isn’t.

“It isn’t doing the things that it needs to do and to go on saying it’s the world leader when manifestly first of all the United States, secondly the European Union, and now even the Chinese are moving much further, faster than we are.”

It comes after Lord Zac Goldsmith quit as environment minister last month with a scathing attack on the Prime Minister’s environmental “apathy”.

A Government spokesman said: “We can be proud of the UK’s record as a world leader on net zero.

“We are going far beyond other countries and delivering tangible progress.

“The UK is cutting emissions faster than any other G7 country and attracted billions of investment into renewables, which now account for 40% of our electricity.

“In the last year alone, we have confirmed the first state backing of a nuclear project in over 30 years and invested billions to kick-start new industries like carbon capture and floating offshore wind.

“With a new department dedicated to delivering net zero and energy security, this Government is driving economic growth, creating jobs, bringing down energy bills, and reducing our dependence on imported fossil fuels.”

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