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Commitment To Climate Change

What does Sunak’s absence at the UN General Assembly says about his commitment to Climate Change?

commitment to climate change

The global climate change agenda.

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) is one of the most significant global events where world leaders come together to discuss and address pressing issues, including climate change. In recent years, the climate crisis has taken centre stage in these discussions, with many nations pledging commitments to combat this existential threat.

Rishi Sunak will become the first British leader in a decade to forgo the event later this month and his absence has raised major concerns about his climate commitments. In fact, heads of more than 100 non-governmental organisations wrote to Sunak urging him to show a commitment to tackling climate change by attending the event, of which he has ignored. In this blog, we will explore the potential consequences of the UK Prime Minister’s absence, on the global climate agenda. 

The importance of the UN General Assembly 

The UN General Assembly provides a platform for world leaders to discuss and coordinate efforts to tackle global challenges. Part of the General Assembly is the Climate Ambition Summit.

The Summit represents a critical political milestone for demonstrating that there is collective global will to accelerate the pace and scale of a just transition to a more equitable renewable-energy based, climate-resilient global economy.”

Climate change is a major issue that transcends borders, affecting every nation and its citizens. International cooperation is essential to develop effective strategies and policies to mitigate its impact. 

Over the past few years, various international agreements and commitments have been made to address climate change. The Paris Agreement represents a landmark global effort to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. To achieve this goal, countries are required to set and achieve ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Government leaders, especially major emitters such as the UK, will be expected to present updated pre-2030 Nationally Determined Contributions as part of the UNGA, including updated net-zero targets, energy transition plans with commitments to no new coal, oil and gas, fossil fuel phase-out plans and more ambitious renewable-energy targets. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Rishi’s decline of attendance falls in line with the decision to grant 100 new North Sea oil and gas licences. Sunak has insisted that his decision is compatible with the UK’s goal of achieving net zero by 2050, whilst Former Tory Cabinet minister Chris Skidmore, warns new oil and gas licences are ‘the wrong decision at precisely the wrong time’.  

Project Rosebank involves extracting oil and gas reserves from deep beneath the sea, contributing to the extraction of fossil fuels, which are a major driver of climate change. Sunak’s approval sends a mixed message about the UK’s commitment to transitioning towards a low-carbon economy and meeting its climate targets. With the world facing an urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change, decisions like this one raise questions about prioritizing short-term economic gains over long-term sustainability and the global climate crisis. Balancing economic interests with climate action is a challenging task, particularly when Shell is the second largest company in the UK, with a market cap of £159.30 billion. However, there’s no denying that the approval of projects like Rosebank underscores the need for a coherent and sustainable energy policy, that aligns with the UK’s climate commitments. 

The climate impact of Rishi Sunak’s absence to the UN General Assembly   

The Prime Minister’s absence at the UN General Assembly raises concerns about the UK’s commitment to addressing climate change on the global stage. 

Lack of leadership

Sunak’s absence can be interpreted as a lack of commitment to the climate agenda, potentially tarnishing the UK’s reputation as a leader in this critical area. 

Stephanie Draper, chief executive of Bond, the network for UK international development organizations that co-ordinated the letter from 100 non-governmental organisations to Sunak, said Britain had previously played a central role in forging international sustainable development goals, but now “appears to have stepped back from leadership”. “It’s an opportunity for the Prime Minister to show leadership on the global stage and rebuild the UK’s reputation as a trusted partner to lower-income countries, and this requires being present as a starting point,” she added. 

Missed opportunities

The UN General Assembly provides a unique opportunity for nations to collaborate and share innovative solutions to climate challenges. Sunak’s absence means that the UK may miss out on important discussions and partnerships that could further its climate goals. 

Global reputation

The absence of a Prime Minister from a major emitting country, at an event as significant as the UN General Assembly, sends a message of indifference towards climate change. It undermines the UK’s leadership role in advocating for climate action.  

Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, David Lammy said: “Rishi Sunak becoming the first Prime Minister to dodge the UN General Assembly in a decade would mark a low ebb of the Conservative Party’s isolationist foreign policy.” 

Influence on funding

Sunak’s absence could impact funding decisions related to climate initiatives, for example, it might hinder the allocation of financial resources to support climate projects both domestically and internationally. 

Rishi Sunak’s absence at the UN General Assembly in 2023 raises concerns about the UK’s commitment to addressing the climate crisis. Climate change is a global problem that requires collective action and leadership from nations around the world. The absence of England’s Prime Minister at this critical forum, may hinder the progress and cooperation needed to combat climate change effectively. As we continue to grapple with the consequences of global warming, it is essential for world leaders to prioritize events like the UN General Assembly, to ensure a sustainable and habitable future for all. 

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