On 20 September, world leaders met in New York for the UN Climate Ambition Summit. In a novel move before the event, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres announced that leaders of nations failing to deliver on climate goals would not be invited to speak. And, of course, the UK didn’t make the cut. Instead, it joined the inauspicious group of climate laggards left off the speakers list, which included top emitters like the US and China.
On the very same day, the Tories proved the UN’s snub completely correct by putting a whole host of the UK’s green policies through the shredder. Rishi Sunak declared that the UK government would roll back a series of climate policy targets. Specifically, Sunak said that the government would scale back the target on phasing out petrol and diesel cars, and weaken targets for an end to gas boiler installations.
Chief executive of the government’s independent climate advisory group Chris Stark argued that the new timeline would make the government’s legal emissions goals “even harder to hit”. Back in June, the Climate Change Committee Stark heads raised concern about the government hitting its targets. They assessed that this was now even less certain than it had been the previous year.
Failure of climate leadership
The contrast between Sunak’s climate ‘leadership’ and that of the nation heads actually attending the summit couldn’t have been more stark. For example, Barbados PM Mia Mottley has spearheaded a fierce campaign to scale up climate finance. On top of this, she has set the ambitious target of 2030 for the phase out of fossil fuels for the Caribbean island nation.
Former US vice-president and founder of The Climate Reality Project Al Gore also attended the UN’s summit. Notably, he voiced his disappointment at Sunak’s announcement:
Al Gore, "I find it shocking, really disappointing, I think Rishi Sunak has done the wrong thing.. Fossil fuel companies have used their wealth to slow things down.. They're much better at capturing politicians than emissions.. You can tell when they've captured one" pic.twitter.com/2KS9vmF87E
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— Farrukh (@implausibleblog) September 20, 2023
‘Over-delivering’ a ‘woefully inadequate’ climate strategy
You could almost laugh at the Tories’ woefully inadequate climate strategies, if the stakes weren’t so high. The summer of 2023 has seen one devastating wildfire after the next strike nations across the globe.
In August, Hawaii experienced unprecedented wildfires that razed over 2,000 buildings and killed nearly a hundred people. Destructive blazes hit multiple other countries like Greece, Spain, and Canada. NASA meanwhile declared the summer of 2023 as the planet’s hottest on record.
Moreover, as the Canary has pointed out, the Tory’s climate actions were neither ambitious nor in step with the necessary trajectory even before his most recent back-track. Likewise, in June, the government’s Climate Change Committee critiqued its policies and lack of concrete action. The independent climate advisory body stated that:
the scale up of action overall is worryingly slow.
In response, the Good Law Project, Friends of the Earth, and ClientEarth are taking the government to court for a second time over their “woefully inadequate” climate strategising.
Net zero isn’t even zero
What’s more, climate groups have also slammed the very concept of net zero itself. For instance, Glasgow Calls Out Polluters (GCOP) denounced net zero initiatives at the 2021 COP26 climate summit as “sciencewash”. As the Canary’s Tracy Keeling has previously explained:
net zero doesn’t mean absolutely no carbon emissions. It’s essentially a plan to ensure the amount of carbon emitted by a country or organisation isn’t more than the amount of carbon they ensure is removed from the atmosphere.
As a result, Keeling detailed how net zero can open the door to greenwashing:
Net Zero calculations generally include unrealistic claims about nature’s carbon-storing capacity, uncertain technologies, and highly contested energy ‘solutions’. What they often lack, meanwhile, is a plan to dramatically lower emissions by reducing and ultimately ending fossil fuel use.
The distant 2050 net zero pledge is leaving room for Sunak to kick the can down the road for a future government. Cleary, net zero was just another way for it to big-up its standing on climate world stage. Now, the PM’s sharp U-turn down the road to climate ruin has earned him a snub from heads of state who convened from across the globe to boast their climate policies.
There’s no longer any hiding the fact that the UK is run in the interests of climate-deniers and delayers, and the capitalist class that benefits. Sunak has proven why the UN was right to shun him at its Climate Ambition Summit – he’s no climate leader.
Feature image via United Nations/Youtube screengrab.
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