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Rishi Sunak Tells COP28 Climate Politics Is "Close To Breaking Point"

Rishi Sunak speaking at Cop28 today (Alamy)

4 min read

Rishi Sunak has said “climate politics is close to breaking point” and that targets must be reached in a way that “doesn’t burden working people,” as he defended his decision earlier this year to relax some net zero policies.

Speaking at the international COP28 summit in Dubai on Friday, the Prime Minister said the “UK is leading by example” when it comes to fighting climate change but that it will not be tackled “unless we take people with us.” 

The two-week long UN conference will bring together thousands of delegates from almost 200 countries to discuss ways to colaborate and tackle global climate change. As well as Sunak, Foreign Secretary David Cameron and Labour Party Leader Keir Starmer are among the guests from the UK. 

Sunak made wide-ranging changes to the government’s long-standing policies designed to help the country hit net zero by 2050 earlier this year, pushing back deadlines on plans for electric cars and household changes.

The announcement came in the wake of the Conservatives’ narrow win in the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election. Local concern about Labour mayor Sadiq Khan’s extension of the Ultra Low Emission Zone policy, which sees drivers of more polluting cars charged £12.50 per day, was seen as playing an important part in the result.

Addressing journalists at Cop28 today, Sunak said: ”Climate politics is close to breaking point.

"The British people care about the environment, they know that the cost of inaction are intolerable, but they also know that we have choices about how we act. 

“So yes, we'll meet our targets, but we'll do it in a more pragmatic way, which doesn't burden working people.”

In September, Sunak announced changes to a number of the UK’s net zero policies, including pushing back the phasing out of petrol and diesel cars, and changing targets for people to replace their gas boilers for heat pumps. 

Speaking at the time, Sunak said that he “believe[s] deeply that when you ask most people about climate change, they want to do the right thing, they’re even prepared to make sacrifices.

“But it cannot be right for Westminster to impose such significant costs on working people especially those who are already struggling to make ends meet and to interfere so much in people’s way of life without a properly informed national debate,” he added. 

Sunak said today that the UK is still on track to meet its emissions targets, and claimed that new proposals mean they will be met in a “way that saves families up and down the country thousands of pounds”. 

“We can meet targets that are already more ambitious than anyone else's, but we can do so in a more pragmatic way that saves families [thousands]”.. . 

“Why wouldn't you do that is my question?”

When the changes were announced earlier in the autumn, PoliticsHome reported about concern among some MPs that the changes could fuel a narrative that the Conservatives are backtracking on the environment. 

There were worries about how that would be received among younger voters, and in Tory seats in the south of England where the Liberal Democrats are hoping to make gains. 

However, away from the domestic picture, when asked whether any of the figures he had spoken to at the international conference had raised the changes, Sunak’s answer was “hand on heart, 100 per cent no”. 

“Not a single leader that I've spoken to today has spoken about that. 

“Do you know why? Because most of their targets are less ambitious than the UK’s.” 

Pointing to his plans to push the phasing out of petrol cars from 2030 to 2035, Sunak added: “You know why no one has raised it with me? It’s because basically every other country in the world is using 2035 as their target.” 

Earlier this week, former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng told PoliticsHome that Britain and the west must make sure that climate change dialogue is not one that bullies developing countries towards net zero. 

He will be attending the conference as a delegate and is one of more than 100 parliamentarian members of the Conservative Environment Network.

“We've got to be very sensitive to what has been called the Global South, the developing world, when you're talking from a relatively affluent country with a long history of industrial production,” the former business secretary said.

“It can't be simply a bunch of rich countries lecturing the world about what they should and shouldn't do… We can't live in that sort of neocolonial bubble.

“Now that might mean in the first instance that things take a bit longer, but you need buy-in across the whole world. We cannot simply bully ourselves to net zero by lecturing countries in the Global South, Middle East or Asia and tell them how naughty they are."

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