The Race for PM & the court orders UK Gov to explain how its net zero policies will affect climate change
As conservative party members begin to vote for the next Prime Minister, climate campaigners have expressed their concern for the once ambitious emissions cutting strategy, that could falter under the new successor. In the political debate on BBC last week, only two minutes were devoted to climate change. What’s worse is that these two minutes were filled with a question about what viewers, at home, could do to tackle climate change. Whilst this is important, both candidates are members of the cabinet and could have been asked much more pressing questions on their own record in government on climate change, or their future plans. This has caused such uproar that over 30 organisations are complaining to the BBC over their questioning.
No serious leader, particularly of a G7 nation, can afford to ignore the current geopolitical reality nor the scale of changing climate across the globe that is shaping it. Last week, Joe Manchin, the Democratic senator, who previously hindered the progress of Joe Biden’s green energy plans, unexpectedly backed a $369 billion bill that if passed, would be the largest US climate package ever agreed. In the same week, Germany’s cabinet approved sweeping plans to invest €177bn over the next four years to hasten the move to a greener economy that’s less dependent on Russian fossil fuels. So, whilst other nations are starting to take great action, both Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss both say they back zero, but what does this mean?
UK’s contribution to climate change
Liz Truss has spent a long time in cabinets that have backed ambitious net zero commitments, that she herself has taken the lead on. For example, on her website, she outlines the Conservative ‘Green Investment and Climate Action’ plans, that states they are to completely eradicate the UK’s contribution to climate change. Yet whilst this work has secured the support of many MP’s, she has simultaneously backed gas fracking and other measures that make net zero seem impossible. Her answer to the roaring rise in energy bills is to suspend green levies, which currently make up less than 10%.
It appears that Rishi Sunak has shown a slightly finer grasp on a green energy transition as he promised to push investment into offshore wind and other renewable energy sources. Saying that, he vowed to keep a ban on any new offshore wind farm development, which can, if done properly, provide some of the best and cheapest renewable energy. What was worrying was when he was asked, just after the UK’s hottest heatwave, how people can make lifestyle changes to tackle climate change; his answer was that he takes advice from his two youngest daughters who are the experts in their household. Whilst this may be true, it is a very light-hearted answer to a serious political question. It doesn’t send very good signals to the rest of the world on the UK’s climate change credibility.
Net zero goals
Despite the rising cost of living, net zero is the fourth most important issue for all voters – outranking crime and Brexit. Both candidates have signed a Conservative Environment Network pledge to deliver on the party’s net zero goals, and we now have a secondary question mark around whether this promise will be delivered.
Last month, the high court ordered the government to outline exactly how its net zero policies will achieve emissions targets, after a legal challenge from environmental groups.
Friends of the Earth, ClientEarth and the Good Law Project had all taken legal action over the government’s flagship climate change strategy, arguing it had illegally failed to include the policies it needed to deliver the promised emissions cuts.
In a judgment, Mr Justice Holgate said the strategy lacked any explanation or quantification of how the government’s plans would achieve the emissions target, and as such had failed to meet its obligations under Climate Change Act (CCA) 2008.
A serious leader can’t ignore the climate imperative; so, whilst the UK currently ranks amongst the top 10 nations for climate performance, time will tell whether our next leader will carry this stance forward or lurch us back.
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