Rishi copping-out of climate leadership
By JACOB ARNOLD
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak touched down in Sharm-el-Sheikh for COP27, the United Nations Climate Change Conference or the annual Conference of the Parties. However, this was not a trip Mr Sunak wanted to make. It’s rather clear that the PM didn’t regard this event as a priority, but the personal political cost of not attending was too great.
In fact, the conference has soured relations between the new Prime Minister and the
new King. Dubbed the ‘activist king’, Charles has long been a climate change
campaigner, as have many other high-profile royals. The monarch’s presence in Egypt
would’ve given weight to the British voice at the summit, showing the UK is serious
about tackling climate change. When Rishi Sunak personally asked the King not to
attend the summit, it immediately weakened the UK’s hand in critical climate negotiations. The UK lost a globally respected and knowledgeable figure at the table.
It has been widely speculated that Mr Sunak only attended in a bid to hold on to his job
as PM. Former boss, leadership rival, and PM, Boris Johnson had long planned to
attend COP27. The presence of Mr Johnson and the absence of Mr Sunak would have
Been disastrous for the PM’s public perception. It would’ve set a clear distinction between these two prominent figures in British politics— showing Johnson to be more progressive, forward-thinking, and considerate of the UK’s long-term interests than Sunak.
The PM made sure to find time away from the pressing ‘domestic challenges’ he previously claimed stopped him from attending. He only participated to benefit his political ratings and due to pressure from back-bench Tories like Nadine Dorries. It wasn’t because he cared about climate change and international cooperation. Sunak went half-heartedly, with no ambition.
Despite all of its failures, Boris Johnson’s government was widely regarded as
successful in fighting climate change, never playing down the scale and
seriousness of the challenge. Under the UK’s presidency of COP, historic agreements
were signed, with those signing on to the Glasgow pact pledging to reverse
deforestation by 2030, among other things. Rishi Sunak’s government lacks the
same passion and ambition for clean growth.
Going into the summit, the PM failed to support climate reparations directly. This is
despite the historical role the UK has played in environmental degradation and the
cooperation that will be needed to tackle a global challenge on this scale.
Once there, Mr Sunak used weak language in his speech, one that should’ve been a rallying cry to other nations to build momentum to face the future. Sunak spoke of it being ‘morally right’ to meet climate targets. If not uninspiring, this view is simply wrong. Forgetting to mention the obvious practical need for climate action was a significant oversight, as was failing to highlight the economic benefits such action would bring. This is all during a global cost of living crisis, where renewables are now the cheapest power source— Mr Sunak’s inability to lead on the moment’s opportunities made this speech shallow and far from what the world needed to hear.
With the summit now closed, the outcome seems almost as lacklustre as the Prime
Minister’s speech. There was a significant agreement on climate reparations, with the wealthiest countries pledging funding for those most affected by and least responsible for climate change. In yet another embarrassing U-turn, this was backed by Britain. Whilst a positive step, this action does little to tackle the causes of climate change. It blindly accepts global warming as inevitable, failing to promote changes to current norms and grasp new opportunities to prevent climate change in the first place.
The idea of the Prime Minister debating his attendance at COP27 was an
embarrassing and shameful position for the UK going into the summit. The loss
of King Charles III, thanks to Mr Sunak’s request, was evidently felt throughout the Conference. Strained monarch-PM relations will heal in time, but the planet and the global economy will not recover if climate change goes unchecked. Therefore, it is right to view the Prime Minister’s attitude to COP27 and his spiritless speech as nothing short of a major let-down and a monumental political failure we shouldn’t let him forget.
Image: Flickr/ COP26