‘We cannot be complacent’: MPs urge Rishi Sunak not to water down green policies

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on climate has today (25 July) sent an open letter to Rishi Sunak stating that he “cannot be complacent in tackling climate change” regardless of short-term pressures.

This letter comes just weeks after the UK Government’s own climate advisors stated that they have less confidence in the UK’s ability to meet its own legally binding emissions targets than they did a year ago. Climate Change Committee (CCC) analysts also reported that the UK risks falling behind in the global race to develop clean energy technologies and is no longer perceived as a global leader in climate diplomacy.

Following on from the CCC report, Zac Goldsmith resigned as the UK Government’s minister responsible for climate and nature on an international stage. Goldsmith said that “apathy” from the PM and his Cabinet on environmental sustainability had made his role “untenable”.

The new letter from the APPG on climate implores Sunak to attend the COP28 UN climate summit in Dubai this winter, along with a newly-appointed state-level climate envoy for the UK. Sunak initially declined to attend COP27 last year and only made a U-turn after Boris Johnson confirmed his attendance.

In attending COP28, the letter states, the UK can take a stronger leadership position on the global energy transition. The UK has advocated for a phase out – not a phase down – of fossil fuels, but has not set an end date. Current Energy Minister Grant Shapps’s personal view is that the UK’s own North Sea oil and gas reserves should be used, but the letter highlights how this can send the wrong message internationally.

The letter links the energy transition to the UK Government’s levelling up commitments and transition plan mandate, highlighting how the UK could advocate globally for an orderly energy transition with “fairness and justice” at the centre.

“Working to guarantee a successful outcome at COP28 is not just essential for the health of people and the planet, but economically the right thing to do,” the letter summarises.

It highlights the Office for Budget Responsibility’s recent conclusion that inaction on net-zero will now be at least twice as costly as action, with gas prices high and climate risks beginning to crystallise. The CCC estimates that the transition will cost 0.5% to 1% of GDP.

Tory in-fighting

The APPG’s letter also notes the letter sent to Sunak from more than 100 businesses last week, stating that any rolling back of domestic climate policies would hamper the private sector’s ability to invest at scale and pace in fast-growing green assets.

Sunak is currently facing calls from a vocal minority of his party to water down green policy. Proponents of “cutting the green crap” argue that voters do not want to see public money spent on the energy transition during the cost-of-living crisis, nor will they pay for their own heat pumps or electric vehicles this decade. This is despite continued high levels of concern about climate change among the voting base in the UK.

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove has appeared on multiple national news outlets today to state that the 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel cars will remain in place. Without it, he stated, the UK will not meet its legal targets. Moreover, this strong signal has already been sent to automotive manufacturers.

Bodies like the Green Finance Institute and UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association (UKSIF) are urging the Prime Minister to keep the 2030 date while assessing new measures to make EVs more accessible to low-income families and SMEs.

UKSIF CEO James Alexander said: “If we do not consider the needs of people across society, then the politics of the net-zero transition become almost impossible.”

Sunak told journalists earlier this week that he will not give up on net-zero but wants to take a “proportionate and pragmatic” pathway that does not burden the general public with “hassle and costs”.

This is precisely why Sunak’s predecessor Liz Truss commissioned Chris Skidmore MP’s Net-Zero Review – to map a pathway to net-zero that maximises the opportunity for British businesses while also contributing to levelling up.

Ministers have accepted some Review recommendations but not all. Skidmore Tweeted the Review this week in a sly dig at fellow MPs, calling it “summer reading for anyone thinking that further delaying action on net-zero might be a good idea”.

Skidmore has also stated that “investing in a transition that is going to happen” globally – whether the UK leads or not – “has always been proportionate and pragmatic”. He added: “The UK has the choice of leading the change, or following [and] missing out… on the investment and jobs that could have been ours for the taking.”

Skidmore is an APPG member along with fellow MPs Caroline Lucas (Green); Selaine Saxby (Conservative); Alexander Stafford (Conservative); Andrew Selous (Conservative); Hilary Benn (Labour); Paul Blomfield (Labour); Anna McMorrin (Labour); Alex Sobel (Labour); Afzal Khan (Labour); Barry Gardiner (Labour); Christiana Rees (Independent); Dan Carden (Labour); Jeff Smith (Labour); Olivia Blake (Labour); Nadia Whittome (Labour); Rachel Maskell (Labour); Zarah Sultana (Labour); Daisy Cooper (Lib Dem); Wera Hobhouse (Lib Dem); Alan Brown (SNP) and Tommy Sheppard (SNP).

Baroness Willis and Baroness Boycott, both crossbench peers in the House of Lords, also support this APPG.

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