Rishi Sunak will urge world leaders to move “further and faster” in transitioning away from damaging fossil fuels as he pledges to make the UK a “clean energy superpower”.
The Prime Minister travels to Egypt on Sunday ahead of the Cop27 international climate change summit with a warning that tackling global warming is “fundamental” to future prosperity and security.
In his address on Monday, he will argue the “shock” to the oil and gas markets caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine underlines the need to move to cheaper, cleaner and safer sources of energy.
He will urge leaders assembled at the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh not to “backslide” on commitments made at last year’s Cop26 summit in Glasgow intended to limit global temperature rises to 1.5C (2.7F) above pre-industrial levels.
In a statement ahead of his departure, Mr Sunak said: “When the world came together in Glasgow last year, nations agreed an historic roadmap for preventing catastrophic global warming. 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.
“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and contemptible manipulation of energy prices has only reinforced the importance of ending our dependence on fossil fuels.
“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.”
Mr Sunak had originally not intended to travel to Egypt, arguing his priority was to sort out the estimated £50 billion black hole in the public finances ahead of Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s autumn statement on November 17.
However he was forced into what opposition parties called a “screeching U-turn” after coming under fire from within his own party, as well as from environmentalists questioning his commitment to the net zero agenda.
The Government was already facing criticism for approving new oil and gas licences in the North Sea when the International Energy Agency has said there can be no more new fossil fuel exploration if the 1.5C target is to be met.
The King, meanwhile, will not be going – despite his passionate interest in environmental issues – after Buckingham Palace agreed with the previous prime minister Liz Truss that he would not attend.
Downing Street, however, suggested this week that they may well have come to a different view if Mr Sunak had been installed in No 10 earlier.
The latest round of UN climate talks takes place against a backdrop of increasingly devastating extreme weather around the world as well as an energy and cost-of-living crisis driven by President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
While there is evidence Russia’s actions have prompted an acceleration towards clean technology, the UN has warned that, based on countries’ latest climate action plans, there is currently no credible pathway to meet the 1.5C goal intended to avoid the worst impact of global warming.
Rich countries are also falling short in providing the finance needed to help developing nations adapt to a changing climate and develop cleanly, the UN has warned.
With vulnerable countries increasingly being hit by extreme storms, floods and droughts, such as Pakistan’s devastating flooding this year, how to address – and pay for – the now unavoidable loss and damage poorer countries are facing from climate change will be one of the key issues at the talks.
The Cop27 talks also mark a milestone for the UK in international climate negotiations, as once it has handed over the presidency of the talks to the Egyptian team it will be the first time Britain is negotiating on its own rather than as part of the EU bloc.
Mr Sunak is expected to chair a meeting of world leaders to drive progress on the landmark pledge signed by more than 100 countries last November in Glasgow to halt and reverse deforestation and damaging land use by 2030.
He will also attend a roundtable on energy transition partnerships, which are utilising public and private sector funds to support low and middle-income countries like South Africa to move away from fossil fuels and grow their green economies.
Greenpeace UK’s head of politics Rebecca Newsom said Mr Sunak’s rhetoric was not matched by the Government’s policies.
“If Sunak wants the UK to be a global climate leader, he needs to rule out new oil and gas drilling, invest in home insulation, and back the demands of developing nations for a loss and damage finance facility,” she said.
“He should increase taxes on the profits of the fossil fuel giants to help pay for it, alongside giving extra support to households struggling with their bills.”