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Rishi's COP-out

The UK is burning up its green credentials for one man's political gain. His fleeting appearance at COP28 is merely an affirmation of that. 

December 02 2023, 14.27pm

Once upon a time - as recently as a year ago, in fact - the UK was punching above its weight in one of the world’s most important arenas: climate change. It was the first world power to actually legislate for net zero targets and the fastest decarbonising nation among the G7. While it never acknowledged its historic responsibility for climate change - between the industrial revolution and empire - and it has spent hundreds of millions over the years in aiding poorer countries to transition. It wasn’t enough, but it was something, and the UK could hold a seat at the top table at COP summits with pride, leading by example and pushing other nations to do more. 

But why lead globally when you settle scores domestically? After barely scraping by in the Uxbridge and South Ruislip byelection by making it a mini-referendum on ULEZ expansion Rishi Sunak seems to be convinced that dialling down green policies will provide the populist magic the Toris’ general election prospects so desperately need. 

New combustion cars moratorium: delayed. Boiler and insulation targets: watered down. And, of course, contrary to all common sense - and in contrast to Labour’s clear-eyes commitment to a total ban - North Sea Oil is now open for business.

Despite any convincing indication that Uxbridge result was anything more than a highly localised fluke, the search for green policies to scrap has been relentless ever since - like someone cashing in their pension pot for Ladbrokes. Except, of course, it’s not his future that Sunak is gambling away; it’s ours. 

The Prime Minister’s fleeting visit to COP28 in Dubai, then, was highly emblematic: In one door and out the other, 11 hours in and out, of which considerable time was not even allocated to the climate. (Contrast this, again, with Keir Starmer, who arrived on Thursday and will stay into the weekend.)  On his way back out, Sunak told Poitico that it would be a mistake“measure our impact here by hours spent.” Well, quite: while nowhere near the destructiveness of his immediate predecessors, Sunak and his government have managed to do a remarkable amount of damage in a very short amount of time.

With a general election now estimated to take place before the summer, here’s hoping they don’t have that much left.