Rishi Sunak is under fire for claiming that the world has charted a course to avoid catastrophic global heating despite experts warning that a temperature rise above 1.5C is now almost “inevitable”.
As he set off for the crucial Cop27 summit, the prime minister argued that the pledges governments had made under the UK’s leadership to cut carbon emissions add up to a plan to avert disaster, if delivered.
“When the world came together in Glasgow last year, nations agreed a historic roadmap for preventing catastrophic global warming,” Mr Sunak said. “It is more important than ever that we deliver on those pledges. Fighting climate change is not just a moral good – it is fundamental to our future prosperity and security.”
The claim flies in the face of the United Nations warning that the pledges, if followed, would still see global temperatures rise by 2.5C since industrialisation – way above the 1.5C limit necessary to prevent climate breakdown.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has described an increase above 1.5C as “almost inevitable”, while the UN secretary-general has warned that the world is “doomed” unless it changes course.
Labour said Mr Sunak “just doesn’t get it”, pointing to his reimposed ban on onshore wind farms, while Greenpeace UK’s head of politics, Rebecca Newsom, said: “Rishi Sunak’s opening speech makes the right noises, but the hard currency of global climate diplomacy is actions, not words.”
And Friends of the Earth’s head of policy, Mike Childs, said: “We’ve seen a yawning chasm between commitments and action. The UK government is way off track for meeting its climate targets, and it has been ordered by the High Court to rewrite its insufficient net zero strategy.”
The criticism follows Mr Sunak’s embarrassing U-turn after he initially said he would skip Cop27. Late last month, King Charles was effectively banned by No 10 from attending the summit.
Meanwhile, the UK’s plans to dramatically expand North Sea oil and gas production are in the firing line, with Joe Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, warning that this will not solve the energy crisis.
And Mr Sunak has exiled Alok Sharma, the respected Cop26 president, sacking him from the cabinet.
In Egypt, the prime minister will formally hand over the presidency of the talks to the Egyptian team, after which the UK will negotiate alone – rather than as part of the EU bloc – for the first time.
Mr Sunak is expected to chair a meeting of world leaders to drive progress on the landmark pledge, signed by more than 100 countries in Glasgow, to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030. There will also be a focus on energy transition, using public and private sector funds to support poorer countries to move away from fossil fuels and grow their green economies.
Before departing for the summit, Mr Sunak said: “We need to move further and faster to transition to renewable energy, and I will ensure the UK is at the forefront of this global movement as a clean energy superpower.”