British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s recent U-turns on some of the UK’s key climate commitments expose the hypocrisy of developed countries on climate change. They make grand promises at global meetings but do not walk the talk at home. Sunak is a prime example.
Earlier this month, he announced, among other things, that the UK would push back a crucial deadline for selling new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 to 2035. More announcements are expected over the next few weeks as a beleaguered Tory leadership is desperately trying to catch up with Labour in the polls ahead of next year’s general elections.
Insisting that the country would still reach its aim of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, Sunak said he wanted to take a “more pragmatic, proportionate and realistic approach”. He did not explain how the net-zero target would still be met.
Why Rishi Sunak’s U-turns are worrying
Going against the advice of his climate advisers, Sunak passed off the U-turns as a way to ease the burden on ordinary folks. He said those who wanted stronger climate policies were gripped by an “ideological zeal”, adding that they want to do more “no matter the cost or disruption to people’s lives”. Ironically, the UK was the first major country to pass a law in 2019 committing to ending its carbon emissions by 2050.
His announcement drew widespread criticism and dismay from environmentalists and car manufacturers who have spent hundreds of millions of pounds to shift to electric vehicles by the earlier 2030 deadline. Climate scientists have warned that this could threaten the UK’s leadership on climate issues.
The world is already 1.2 degrees Celsius warmer than pre-industrial levels, leading to the freak weather we have been seeing, from deadly heatwaves in Europe to flooding elsewhere. This is set to rip through the 1.5°C threshold by the early 2030s.
Even former US vice-president Al Gore, a leading voice on climate change, criticised the move and said Sunak was “doing the wrong thing”. This is the same Sunak who had said the world must not slow down on climate change mitigation because of the war in Ukraine. Yet, here we are.
Even the US, under Joe Biden, is not doing enough to contain emissions to reach its goals. The UK’s backtracking comes soon after the release of a UN report just ahead of the G20 Summit in Delhi, which looks at the progress of countries in achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement of 2015.
In 2015, countries committed to keeping global temperatures from rising beyond 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century and “as far as possible” below 1.5 degrees Celsius. This first “global stocktake” report says that the world is not on track to achieve Paris Agreement targets and that countries have a “rapidly narrowing” window to get their act together.
The world is already 1.2 degrees Celsius warmer than pre-industrial levels, leading to the freak weather we have been seeing, from deadly heatwaves in Europe to flooding elsewhere. This is set to rip through the 1.5°C threshold by the early 2030s. The UN report says scaling up renewable energy sources and phasing out fossil fuels are “indispensable elements” of a just energy transition. Electrification, particularly within the transport sector, is key. At the same time, targets for emission reductions need to be increased significantly, and the implementation of mitigation methods to meet these targets must also be increased.
With the next major climate summit set for November in Abu Dhabi, the prospects of tangible outcomes appear to be weakened further. The only losers are all of us.