The prime minister’s attempts to turn the climate emergency into a US-style wedge issue have dismayed veteran MPs who champion green policies
Rishi Sunak’s decision to drive a “green wedge” between the Conservatives and Labour will take the UK into dangerous new political territory and “the worst kind of culture wars”, not seen for more than 30 years, senior Tory figures and political observers have warned.
Reversals and delays to net zero policy announced last week will be just the start of a general election campaign in which the UK’s longstanding cross-party political consensus on climate will be increasingly at stake. Emails sent to journalists from the Conservative campaign headquarters revealed lines of attack on targets including the independent Climate Change Committee and Labour’s proposed £28bn investment in a low-carbon economy.
Lord Goldsmith, a former Tory minister, told the Observer: “It’s not so much the individual measures he’s announced. It’s more about the language and politics. This is a clear attempt to turn the environment into a wedge issue, as it is in the US. We have managed to avoid that until now, with disagreements mostly being about means, not ends. Sacrificing the environment to culture wars is cynical, devastating and wildly irresponsible.”
Sunak repeated many times that he was still committed to the UK’s legally binding target of reaching net zero by 2050, though experts said the policy changes were more likely to hamper than help. But Chris Skidmore, the Conservative ex-minister and author of the government’s net zero review, accused the prime minister of misleading voters. “It’s especially worrying that false claims and disinformation are being made about meat taxes that have never existed, or compulsory car sharing, or having seven bins. This is completely untrue, and is the worst kind of culture war politics, attempting to deliberately mislead,” he told the Observer.
‘The government needs to get real and address the situation.’
A nurse has been praised after taking apart the Tory government’s response to ongoing NHS strikes, as she defended the strikes over poor pay and conditions.
Junior doctors and consultants chose to take joint industrial action for the first time in history this week, with more walkouts planned across October.
While Tory MP and panellist Kevin Hollinrake MP sought to defend the government’s refusal to negotiate over pay, the nurse exposed just how awful the government’s position is.
Joining in on the debate on what should be done differently to resolve the doctors pay dispute, the audience member said: “I’m a nurse, I voted to strike in the last ballot, when I’m balloted again, I will vote to strike again, and I’ll do that continually until pay talks open and they’re realistic.
“We are striking for pay, we are striking because we feel undervalued but we are also striking for patient safety, so when we’re accused of putting patients at risk, I say, patients are at risk every single day of the week.
“We’ve got 7 million people on waiting lists, we’ve got 140,000 vacancies, people are dying on waiting lists, people are dying in the back of ambulances, and this cannot go on.
″The government needs to get real and address the situation.”
More at Left Foot Forward blog
FFS Fossil Fuel Subsidies continue to be huge in UK and globally despite the urgent need to move away from the use of fossil fuels since they are the main cause of the climate crisis. Current estimates of FFS are 4% of GDP globally and 2% of GDP in UK. FFS that’s huge FFS. We only have estimates of FFS because FFS are not specifically acknowledged with governments disguising FFS by selecting definitions that hide their FFS FFS. Please publish your own article if you know FFS better than me FFS.
… the UK continues to offer a number of tax reliefs for both domestic production and consumption of fossil fuels. In the last 5 years, the value of UK support to fossil fuels mounted to approximately £12bn annually on average.
In the face of the climate and environmental crises, and the short timeframe left to avert breakdown, it is increasingly clear that the current rate and scale of action will not deliver a safe future. In place of this we need a deep transformation of design and operation of the economy. This will require structural policy shifts, as well as a step-change in public investment. Tax revenues can play an important role in sustainably servicing this increased borrowing. Crucially though, by bringing together the twin goals of a Green New Deal – securing economic and climate justice — a reimagined UK tax system can play a central role in driving a more equitable distribution of wealth while reorienting economic activity away from high-carbon production and consumption. Phasing out UK fossil fuel support needs to be part of a coherent strategy to ensure an orderly, just, and rapid transition.
Under a new plan, oil and gas firms can access a “super-deduction” investment allowance which means for £1 spent in “UK extraction” up to 91% of the costs will be covered by the tax saving.
This deduction is covered from the point of investment, rather than at the point the project starts producing. Many green experts have noted that “UK extraction” is a vague term, but one that points to major tax reliefs for energy giants that invest in the extraction of more UK-based oil and gas fields.
That’s a huge incentive for fossil fuel companies to extract from previous Chancellor and current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak FFS: It will cost them only 9p for a £ of investment.
Decision by UK prime minister to water down key climate policies ‘really shocking to me’, says former US vice-president
Al Gore, the former US vice-president, has described the decision by the UK prime minister, Rishi Sunak, to water down key climate policies as “shocking and disappointing” and “not what the world needs from the United Kingdom”.
Gore, now one of the world’s foremost advocates for swift action to avert the climate crisis, told CNN: “I find it shocking and really disappointing … I think he’s done the wrong thing. I’ve heard from many of my friends in the UK including a lot of Conservative party members who have used the phrase, ‘utter disgust’.
“And some of the young people there feel as if their generation has been stabbed in the back. It’s really shocking to me.”
UK not a serious player in global race for green growth, says Greenpeace, while Oxfam says move is ‘betrayal’
Jim Watson, professor of energy policy and director of UCL’s Institute for Sustainable Resources
“Rishi Sunak’s net zero speech is full of contradictions, and will make it harder to meet our medium- and long-term climate change targets. It also risks increasing the costs by delaying the shift away from fossil fuels and reducing the economic benefits to the UK.”
Prof Sir Brian Hoskins, chair of the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London
“Our PM wants to have his cake and eat it when he says that the government wants to keep to the UK climate change targets but to weaken the policies to achieve them. These policies were already too weak according to the June report of its advisers, the Climate Change Committee.”
Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace UK
“The grim reality is that Britain is no longer seen as a serious player in the global race for green growth. Under the Conservative government, Britain has gone from leader to laggard on climate change and further planned U-turns leaked last night will only hasten our waning influence on the world stage.”
Lyndsay Walsh, Oxfam’s climate change policy adviser
“Any further weakening of the government’s climate policies is a complete betrayal of people living in poverty – both in the UK and abroad – who are most vulnerable to climate change. The government needs to put long-term interests ahead of short-term politics and that means a fast and fair move towards renewable energy.”
“Sunak’s U-turn today will be devastating for the people of the U.K. and for the planet we call home,” warned one Scottish Green. “It’s nothing short of evil.”
Critics across the political spectrum—from Conservative members of Parliament and corporations to Greens and climate campaigners—reacted with anger and resolve Wednesday following the announcement by U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak that his Tory government would retreat from some of its key net-zero commitments.
Speaking Wednesday at the Downing Street Press Briefing Room in London, Sunak said his government is still committed to reaching net-zero by 2050, but in a “more proportionate way” that would bring a “greener planet and a more prosperous future.”
The rollback will reportedly include delaying a ban on the sale of petrol- and diesel-powered vehicles from 2030 to 2035, pushing back the phaseout of gas boilers, scrapping energy efficiency targets for some homes, dropping recycling plans, and canceling a planned air travel tax.
“This is a U-turn that will leave the Tories facing in the opposite direction of almost everyone, and finally end their hopes of reelection.”
“No one can deny climate change is happening,” Sunak said, adding that the county needs “sensible green leadership” instead of false choices that “never go beyond a slogan.”
However, Conservative peer Lord Zac Goldsmith — who resigned his ministerial post earlier this summer due to what he called Sunak’s climate “apathy” — called the prime minister’s reversal “a moment of shame.”
“His short stint as PM will be remembered as the moment the U.K. turned its back on the world and on future generations,” he added.
Shadow Climate Secretary Ed Miliband led Labour condemnation of the reversal, which he called “a complete farce from a Tory government that literally does not know what they are doing day to day.”
Brighton Pavilion Green MP Caroline Lucas slammed what she called Sunak’s “coordinated, calculated, and catastrophic rollback.”
“What this all reveals is that Sunak really doesn’t seem to care about the climate in the slightest—it’s little more than an afterthought,” Lucas wrote in a Guardian opinion piece published Wednesday.
Sunak must call a general election by January 2025, and his Tories are trailing the opposition Labour Party in opinion polls amid persistently high inflation, slow economic growth, and rising inequality.
“If Sunak mistakenly thinks the climate is merely a political device to draw dividing lines between his party and Labour, he will fail on his own terms,” wrote Lucas. “All it will do is draw an ever-greater divide between him and the people he seeks to govern.”
Climate campaigners roundly condemned Sunak’s decision.
“The government needs to double down now, not U-turn,” Kennedy Walker, a U.K. organizer with the climate action group 350.org, said in a statement. “We have the opportunity to show what a transition to a greener economy that works for people and the planet can look like; we need to hold leadership to account to make sure it happens and they follow through on their own promises.”
Riffing on the government’s “long-term decisions for a brighter future” slogan, Extinction Rebellion U.K. wrote on the social media site X: “Short-term decisions for a shitter future. Remember, this government took £3.5 million in donations from Big Oil and other industries before licensing new gas and oil.”
Many companies including automaker Ford and energy giant E.ON joined in criticism of the rollback.
“Our business needs three things from the U.K. government: ambition, commitment, and consistency. A relaxation of 2030 would undermine all three,” Ford U.K. chair Lisa Brankin said Wednesday. “We need the policy focus trained on bolstering the EV market in the short term and supporting consumers while headwinds are strong: infrastructure remains immature, tariffs loom, and cost-of-living is high.”
Some critics noted that Sunak’s announcement came on the same day the leaders of many nations—but not Britain or the world’s two top carbon polluters, China and the United States—gathered in New York for the United Nations Climate Ambition Summit.
“We’re in a climate emergency. The deadly impacts of climate change are here now and we have to act urgently,” Labour London Mayor Sadiq Khan—the only U.K. speaker at the summit — told The Guardian Wednesday. “We have seen record high temperatures in London earlier this month and the hottest ever July. Over the last two years, we have experienced unprecedented wildfires and flash floods, destroying homes and livelihoods.”
“This government’s response flies in the face of common sense and shows they are climate delayers,” Khan added. “It beggars belief that not only are they watering down vital commitments, but they are also passing up the opportunity to create green jobs, wealth, and lower energy bills—as well as failing to give investors the certainty they need to boost the green economy.”
Sunak’s reversal also infuriated many people in Scotland.
“Rishi Sunak has blood on his hands,” National Union of Students Scotland president and Scottish Young Greens co-convener Ellie Gomersall toldThe National. “His excuse? It’s too costly. Well then all the more kudos to the Scottish government who are still moving forward with net-zero policies like low-emission zones, phasing out gas boilers, cheaper public transport, all the while on a budget severely restrained by the confines of devolution.”
“And of course when the Scottish government does try to implement simple yet effective measures like a deposit return scheme, Westminster comes along and blocks it,” she added. “Sunak’s U-turn today will be devastating for the people of the U.K. and for the planet we call home. It’s nothing short of evil.”
Alistair Heather, a Scottish writer and TV presenter, told The National that he was “almost pleased” by Sunak’s announcement.
“This is a U-turn that will leave the Tories facing in the opposite direction of almost everyone, and finally end their hopes of reelection,” he explained. “For mainstream voters, who understand that a clear, urgent movement of travel towards a green future is the best chance we have of mitigating the worst effects of the climate collapse, the Tories have made themselves completely unelectable. Good… Fuck the Tories. Mon the independence.”
“With the Left AWOL, our species is being quick-marched to extinction.”
The outrage was felt far beyond U.K. shores.
“At a time when the U.K. should be providing global leadership in transitioning off fossil fuels, especially in recognition of the impact its historical emissions have had in bringing about the climate crisis, the U.K. government is considering backtracking on already insufficient commitments,” 350.org Europe regional director Nicolò Wojewoda said in a statement.
Yanis Varoufakis, a former Greek finance minister who heads the left-wing MeRA25 party, wrote on X that “Sunak’s U-turn is a reflection of the total Europe-wide collapse of the market-based, neoliberal consensus on how to tackle the climate crisis. It marks the center‐right’s new path.”
“And with the Left AWOL,” he added, “our species is being quick-marched to extinction.”