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What Sunak claims about the UK’s climate record – and the reality

Rishi Sunak has made a series of claims about the UK’s climate record in defence of his net zero rollback. Speaking at a press conference during a short visit to the Cop28 climate conference in Dubai, the prime minister insisted he had not faced any criticism from other world leaders for watering down his climate pledges.

Claim: the UK has decarbonised faster than any major economy

This is true to an extent: according to some models, since the 1990s the UK has decarbonised faster than other large economies. This is because it was once very dependent on coal and was fast to phase it out. However, look at more recent times and the picture changes. Recent data shows Germany has cut greenhouse gas emissions faster than the UK since the 2015 Paris agreement to limit global warming. The UK was good at moving past the age of coal but it is going to be difficult to keep up with countries that have less stringent planning rules on solar and wind, more nuclear power stations, and less leaky, better-insulated homes.

Claim: the UK is one of the largest climate donors

According to Seek development, the UK is the world’s 13th largest climate donor. As it is the sixth largest economy by GDP according to the World Bank, the UK could do better.

Claim: the UK will meet its climate targets even with rollback on net zero

Sunak claimed the UK would still be on track to meet its carbon targets despite the changes he announced. The government’s own climate change committee has worked out that the changes will make this more difficult.

Claim: rollback on heat pump and insulation pledges will save families thousands of pounds

This is debatable. While Sunak has brought forward some exemptions for the gas and oil boiler phase-out, there were always going to be exemptions for people who would find it difficult to heat their home any other way. No one was ever going to be forced to have a heat pump – they could heat their home by another method that did not involve a fossil-fuel boiler. And the insulation rules he scrapped were only for landlords, who were going to be made to ensure their tenants lived in a home they could heat affordably. So while this will save landlords thousands of pounds, it may end up costing renters more.

Claim: climate politics is broken and rhetoric is harming progress

This was a theme Sunak kept bringing up at Cop28. However, it is he who has been criticised by scientists for politicising the Climate Change Committee, and for accusing climate campaigners and other experts of being “zealots”.