Stockholm (NordSIP) – Satire is dead. Neither The Thick of It nor Yes Minister can compete with the outstanding level of comedy writing demonstrated by the rapid succession of recent Conservative Prime Ministers in the UK. Today 21st September 2023, PM Rishi Sunak delivered a masterclass in dark humour with a speech destined to finally melt the brains of sustainability professionals.
Standing at a podium emblazoned with the slogan “Long-Term Decisions for a Brighter Future,” Sunak laid out some short-term decisions for a darker future. For the sake of context, it is worth noting that prior to Glasgow’s COP26, the UK was seen as something of a global leading light in terms of emissions reduction. The nation had managed to reduce territorial greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by roughly 50% between 1990 and 2020, mainly thanks to the phasing out of coal powered power plants. In 2019, the UK had also become one of the very first nations to enshrine a net zero target into law, through an amendment to its Climate Change Act 2008.
UK presided over FLOP26
Things started to turn sour after a distinctly half-hearted COP26 presided over by the UK. In July 2022 the UK government lost a court case brought by several environmental campaign groups, with the High Court ruling that its Net Zero Strategy was in breach of the country’s own Climate Change Act. Rishi Sunak, the latest to stagger through the Prime Ministerial revolving door, has given regular signs of a climate mindset that could be described as disinterested at best. He regularly travels short distances in planes and helicopters, only attended COP27 under duress having initially declined, has accepted significant political donations from fossil fuel interests and lately flew in the face of IEA and IPCC advice by announcing 100 new licenses for North Sea oil and gas projects.
Not content with all of that, today’s speech saw Sunak turn the climate-trolling dial up to the max. Speaking at his contradictory podium, he announced long delays to the established plans to phase out Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) cars and domestic gas boilers. To maintain its net-zero pathway the UK must reduce its GHG emissions by 68% by 2030, a goal that Sunak has effectively scuppered. In yet another sign that climate action is being deliberately politicised, official government social media posts about the speech were accompanied by the following graphic:
These claims were met by a near-unanimous chorus of derision, as none of the supposed measures being “stopped” actually exist. Some of the topics may be found alluded to within discussion papers, but not in the form of any concrete plans for taxes or legislation. This appears to be another example of Sunak outsmarting the UK’s very best satirists, by pre-empting any potential spoofing on their part.
Unpredictability is the enemy of the transition
NordSIP’s Laundromat is a space to let off steam about climate saboteurs and greenwashers, somewhat free of the usual journalistic restraint required of our publication. However, there is a very serious point to be made regarding Sunak’s net-zero back-pedalling. Achieving an effective and timely low-carbon transition requires vast amounts of private capital to supplement any State-sponsored measures. That largely depends on the creation of the right environment for companies to have the confidence to make the necessary long-term capital investments. Sunak has today managed the unlikely feat of uniting climate campaigners and large car manufacturers. Many of the latter had already signalled their intention to go fully electric and have been taking action based on the 2030 date for banning new ICE car sales in the UK. The Ford Motor Company has already formally expressed its anger at today’s decision.
The investment industry is also distinctly unimpressed by Sunak’s latest move. Rose Easton, Interim Chief RI Ecosystems Officer at the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), commented: “This latest roll back on net zero policies by the UK government unjustifiably assumes that staying the course on imperative long-term goals is incompatible with addressing immediate cost of living concerns. Transitioning to meet net zero goals could reduce costs for the economy, attract £10 billion per year of investment into the UK and create 600,000 new green, decent jobs by 2030. What investors need is a clear, consistent, and enabling policy environment that is critical to investor confidence and the fairness and viability of the low-carbon transition. This ongoing trend undermines the UK’s position as a global sustainability leader, impacts certainty around future investments, and delays the economic transition that is needed to achieve net zero goals.”
Indeed, tackling the climate crisis requires long-term decision-making, and we are in grave danger of politicians making a mockery of the situation.