Rishi Sunak promises ‘better future’ for UK but fails to mention the environment

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has kicked off the new year with a speech penned to quell “apprehension” about life in the UK among the general public. He made promises to improve healthcare and schools as part of a vision for a better future, but mentioned nothing on the natural environment.

Rishi Sunak promises ‘better future’ for UK but fails to mention the environment

Image: 10 Downing Street

Sunak delivered his speech this afternoon (4 January), a little under a week before Parliament is set to resume after the winter recess.

He used his podium to address criticisms of his handling of the cost-of-living crisis, as well as ongoing strikes across the public and private sectors, in fields including nursing, rail and postage.

He said that the fact that many Brits will have their finances squeezed and be struggling to access key services mean some “look ahead to 2023 with apprehension”.

Sunak said he will “work night and day to change that, and quickly” “not just by providing relief and peace of mind for the months to come … but also by changing our country and building a better future for our children and grandchildren.”

Sunak listed “five foundations on which to build a better future”, making the following five pledges:

  1. Halve inflation this year
  2. Grow the economy, with new jobs in all regions and increased pay in all regions
  3. Decrease national debt
  4. Reduce NHS waiting lists
  5. Pass new laws to prevent illegal migration in small boats

Sunak additionally pledged to increase police officer numbers; to boost school funding with a focus on improving maths education; to launch family ‘hubs’ in local communities to provide practical advice to parents, and to support more people back into work if they are able.

But the Government’s pledge to improve nature for the next generation – and failure to deliver on that pledge – were not mentioned by the Prime Minister or raised by any of the journalists present.

Sunak also did not mention any topics relating to energy beyond bills support, skirting around the fact that energy efficiency, clean energy generation and energy storage are all sectors that can contribute significantly to the Government’s commitment to levelling up and improving international economic competitiveness.

He justified his choice of topics to focus on by arguing that they are “the people’s priorities” but “not the limit of [his] ambition for our country”.

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) of MPs is set to publish recommendations on accelerating the energy transition in a new report on Thursday (5 January).

Sunak’s only mention of anything relating to the environment was a passing note to call the UK a “world leader” in clean technology. Speaking about innovation, he said: “A better future is one where our economy is growing faster, so that everybody, everywhere, across our union has new opportunities for better-paying good jobs. And the change we need is to put innovation at the heart of everything we do.

“Some people think innovation is all about gadgets and geekery, a nice-to-have, peripheral to growth compared to the traditional levers of tax and spend. But that is exactly the mindset that we need to change.”

He called the UK a leader in AI, life sciences, quantum, fintech and cleantech.

Greenpeace UK’s head of politics Rebecca Newsom Tweeted shortly after the speech concluded, writing: “In the warmest ever January on record, Sunak, once again, had nothing to say on one of the biggest challenges for society in the 21st century… [the] climate emergency.”

January heat records were broken in several European cities on Sunday (1 January) due to a ‘heat dome’ effect covering much of the continent.


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