Rishi Sunak: More must be done to tackle climate change despite COP27 deal

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the Cop27 summit at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the Cop27 summit at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)

The Prime Minister has said that “more must be done” to tackle climate change, after negotiators secured a last-minute deal at Cop27 in Egypt.

Rishi Sunak, who attended the global climate summit earlier this month in Egypt after originally deciding not to attend, said in a brief statement: “I welcome the progress made at Cop27, but there can be no time for complacency.

“Keeping the 1.5 degrees commitment alive is vital to the future of our planet. More must be done.”

The slogan of “keeping 1.5 alive” dominated discussions at the summit in Glasgow last year, when Cop26 President Alok Sharma and the UK delegation steered efforts to limit global warming.

On Sunday, Mr Sharma expressed disappointment about elements of the agreement as he warned that the 1.5C ambition is “on life support”.

Speaking at the summit’s closing plenary session, he said that progress on loss and damage has been “historic” but warned that it was not a moment for “unqualified celebration”.

Officials and negotiators agreed a deal in the early hours of Sunday to create a fund for compensating poor nations that are victims of extreme weather worsened by rich countries’ carbon pollution.

But Mr Sharma told the conference: “Many of us came here to safeguard the outcomes that we secured in Glasgow, and to go further still.

“In our attempts to do that, we have had a series of very challenging conversations over the past few days.

“Indeed those of us who came to Egypt to keep 1.5 degrees alive, and to respect what every single one of us agreed to in Glasgow, have had to fight relentlessly to hold the line.

“We have had to battle to build on one of the key achievements of Glasgow.”

Mr Sharma’s speech, delivered after what appeared to be fraught and last-minute efforts to broker a consensus, pointed out the gaps in the agreement.

“We joined with many parties to propose a number of measures that would have contributed to this. Emissions peaking before 2025, as the science tells us is necessary.

“Not in this text. Clear follow-through on the phase down of coal. Not in this text.

“A clear commitment to phase out all fossil fuels. Not in this text.

“And the energy text, weakened, in the final minutes.”

He added: “Friends, I said in Glasgow that the pulse of 1.5 degrees was weak.

“Unfortunately, it remains on life support. And all of us need to look ourselves in the mirror, and consider if we have fully risen to that challenge over the past two weeks.”

The 1.5C target comes from the Paris Agreement, the global treaty on climate change negotiated in 2015, where there was a strong and ultimately successful push by nations such as low-lying islands to include the 1.5C target in the deal because they felt letting temperatures go any higher would threaten their survival.

Governments and experts will now closely consider what the deal means in the fight against climate change.

Labour’s Ed Miliband accused countries of “kicking the can down the road” in Egypt as he criticised the “complete absence” of leadership from Mr Sunak at the summit.

The shadow climate change secretary said: “Yet again we hear the unmistakable sound of the can being kicked down the road on the necessary actions to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees – and as a result it is now at grave risk.

“Too many countries were clearly resistant to what is required, including on fossil fuels.”

Concern came too from Lord Deben, chairman of the Climate Change Committee, who said that while the 1.5C target is not a “lost cause” urgent action is needed.

He told BBC Radio 4’s World this Weekend programme: “It’s better than I feared, because the Egyptians had a very tough time to try to get this right.

“But it is nothing like as good as we need to be if we’re to keep the rising temperature down to 1.5C.”

“I don’t think 1.5C is a lost cause. I don’t think we can allow it to be a lost cause.”

On Sunday morning, many campaigners praised the breakthrough on the loss and damage fund, which according to the agreement will initially draw on contributions from developed countries and other private and public sources such as international financial institutions.

But it came alongside warnings that time was running out to curb global warming.

Friends of the Earth’s international climate campaigner Rachel Kennerley said: “Countries like the UK must now provide the necessary cash, and ensure the scheme isn’t undermined by nations trying to avoid their obligations,” she said.

But she accused rich countries of also using the talks to “avoid ending their addiction to coal, oil and gas – instead favouring dangerous and ineffective distractions, like offsetting, over cutting emissions”.