When Sunak became Prime Minister in 2022, hopes were high that Truss’ “anti-nature” reign had ended. He promised in his first speech outside Number 10 that “protecting our environment” was a priority, and confirmed in the first round of Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament that the UK government “will deliver on what [they] said at Cop [COP26].”
Yet, we are now seeing the prime minister take decisions that experts claim will either significantly delay or completely derail the agreed-to COP26 aim to reach global net zero by 2050. As one specialist says, “delay is tantamount to capitulation.”
Sunak continues to claim that the hold-up is for the financial good of the public. He said that his decision last week to delay the ban on selling new petrol or diesel cars would “save families thousands of pounds,” and that his approach to meeting the net zero target would be “more pragmatic [and] proportionate” than the original target allowed for.
This did not go down well with the public. The policy director of Greenpeace UK, Douglas Parr, told AP News that Sunak is “taking the public for fools,” and that “rowing back on home insulation and commitments to help people move away from gas will ensure we stay at the mercy of volatile fossil fuels and exploitative energy companies.”
Tory MP Chris Skidmore agreed, stating that it is “the people who will pay the price for this will be householders, whose bills will remain higher as a result of inefficient fossil fuels and being dependent on volatile international fossil fuel prices.”
In other words, Sunak’s claimed efforts to put public interest before government targets are likely to cause more long-term harm than good for both people and the planet.
The call for Sunak to stick to net zero targets is unignorable
Greenpeace UK decided to ask the public what they thought, and the results directly opposed Sunak’s for-the-people ethos.
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Here are the main takeaways from the NGO’s recent poll:
- 70% of the public named climate policies as major factors influencing “how they [would] vote in the next election.”
- 85% of those in the Blue Wall (conservative constituencies in Southern England who opposed Brexit) wanted more government support with home insulation, and 73% wanted more subsidisation for heat pumps.
- 87% of residents of marginal seats were looking for “more government investment for renewable power,” and 79% wanted to see “subsidised rail travel” used as a viable alternative to driving.
- 80% of those in the Blue Wall “support the idea of a wealth tax on the richest 1% of people to fund action on climate change.”
So, not only does Sunak’s approach lack public backing, it may well cost him Blue Wall support.
The list of environmental not-for-profit organisations speaking out against the UK government is ever-growing, with petitions, open letters and campaigns backed by the public emerging from NGOs across the country, including Greenpeace UK, Friends of the Earth and RenewableUK.
We might now look back to January of this year, when the chief executive of nonprofit Generation Vegan (GenV), Naomi Hallum, wrote to Rishi Sunak with the offer of donating £1 million to his chosen charity, should he “go vegan for one month.” GenV had decided that “it was time to encourage the UK leader to follow his words with meaningful action.” Sunak’s response was revealing, GenV said:
“[…] Sunak’s representative sidestepped the issue. Instead of stating whether the Prime Minister would accept the offer to go vegan for one month, Spencer merely iterated that they were already taking all necessary steps ‘to ensure greater environmental sustainability’ and ‘towards achieving our 25-Year Environment Plan ambitions and our carbon net zero goals.’”
Sunak might have ignored calls from GenV, but now the call isn’t only coming from nonprofit organisations.
Celebrities and businesses are also calling out Sunak for his lack of accountability. As Greenpeace reports, their open letter to all UK party leaders has been signed by “over 106,000” members of the UK public, as well as many big names including Emma Thompson, Mel B, Olivia Colman, Stephen Fry, Peter Capaldi, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paloma Faith, and Emilia Clarke, to name a few.
Related articles: How We Can Reach Net Zero, According to the IEA | Sunak’s First Week: What’s Happened to the UK’s Environmental Policy?
Motor company Ford UK is also “leading a furious business backlash” in opposition to Sunak’s decision to push the car sale ban to 2035; a sale labelled “immovable” by the UK government just two months ago. The company stated that delaying the ban compromises Sunak’s “ambition, commitment and consistency,” and managing director Lisa Brankin said that they’d already begun “investing to meet [the] challenge.”
Where does this leave the UK?
Greenpeace UK’s survey aims to “[set] a standard for parties’ manifestos,” particularly as we approach the next election. Given the huge public, celebrity and business-led support for the inclusion of green policies in these manifestos, we might feel hopeful that Sunak could still change his mind on the “watering down [of] key green measures.”
Greenpeace UK has recently launched Project Climate Vote, an initiative that sees volunteers trained to “recruit a million climate voters” by knocking on the nation’s doors. This project could force UK political leaders to take note of the public’s growing focus on climate issues. Greenpeace UK’s campaigner, Georgia Whitaker, said:
“The next general election is a key moment to ensure the next government listens to voters’ concerns on the climate. This is why we’re rolling out a nationwide mass door-knocking programme to recruit at least one million Climate Voters. For too long politicians have served the interests of the elite, making fossil fuel giants and water companies ever richer at the expense of ordinary people and the planet. This polling proves that a majority of people in this country want more climate action, not less, so we’re not going to allow self-serving politicians to split the public and turn these vital issues into a political football. A climate majority already exists, and in the next election they will be a political force that all parties will have to reckon with.”
Sunak’s time as Prime Minister has shown him continually pushing climate issues to the bottom of the pile. Yet, Greenpeace UK has provided proof that this is not what the public wants.
The NGO’s new manifesto calls for the prioritisation of energy-efficient heating solutions to help with the UK’s cost of living crisis, a greater investment into environmentally friendly industries and the creation of more jobs in these industries, and the maintaining of cheap public transport that is available for all.
Unlike Sunak’s delays, these aims should help the British public both in the short and long term.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Sunak (not) going vegan, London, January 11, 2023. Featured Photo Credit: Samuel Regan-Asante.