Climate change is still the greatest threat we face. Ahead of the summit Britain must demonstrate real leadershipby Tom Sasse / September 17, 2020 / Leave a comment
It is 14 months since Boris Johnson became prime minister and promised that the UK would “lead the world” in cutting its emissions to net zero by 2050—a target adopted just a month before by his departing predecessor, Theresa May. In just over 14 months’ time, world leaders will begin to arrive in Glasgow for the rescheduled COP26 conference—the biggest set piece in climate diplomacy in over half a decade.
When Johnson picked up the UK’s bid to take on the tricky and all-important role of host, alongside negotiating a free trade deal with the EU and implementing an ambitious domestic agenda, he could not have foreseen that his government—and others around the world—would spend 2020 fighting coronavirus.
But the conference remains as urgent as ever. Despite a temporary dip in emissions, the planet keeps on warming. All countries still need to work out how to shift—with public support—from being economies powered by fossil fuels to economies that are near emissions free.
The UK has a unique opportunity to take a lead in helping the world get to net zero and to show, post-Brexit, that “Global Britain” can still be a diplomatic heavyweight. But the coming months will be vital. Our domestic record will be subject to close scrutiny. Our ability to chivvy others towards actions will depend on our own.
So, what grade does the government get for its efforts so far?
While its manifesto devoted just two breezy pages to climate change, the government has been busy in some areas. The transport department, long considered a laggard, has been busiest. Last October, it brought forward the phaseout date of petrol and diesel cars from 2040 to 2035; in March, it quietly published a strategy which spoke of the need to reduce transport demand.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s economic statement in July also had some green window dressing—a £2bn green home grant, a scheme to insulate public sector buildings—while parking other investment decisions until the Autumn.
But despite these encouraging initiatives, there is nothing that resembles a coherent plan for delivering net zero, sector-by-sector, and getting the UK back on track. The latest assessment by the independent Committee on Climate Change judged that the UK remained off target for its earlier. less ambitious goal—an 80 per cent reduction from 1990 levels.
The problem is…