Government credibility matters for climate leadership

29 June 2021
Comments 1
Category Blog, News
29 June 2021, Comments 1

Ever since the Climate Change Act of 2008, UK Prime Ministers have claimed that Britain is a world leader on addressing climate change. But that claim is now wearing dangerously thin – and that risks terrible international consequences. A concerning illustration of PM Johnson’s attitude to the issue was his boasting about the UK’s commitment to achieve ‘Net Zero’ on greenhouse gas emissions and then making the trip from London to Cornwall for the June G7 on a plane – the highest greenhouse emitting form of transport he could have chosen. 

To be fair, the UK has led the way on addressing climate change in some important ways. We were the first country to bring in legally binding greenhouse gas emissions targets, thanks to the Climate Change Act; we have almost entirely shut down our coal fired power stations, we have the greatest installed capacity of offshore wind farms in the world, and we are one of the first countries to declare a ‘net zero’ target – important, but still only words at this stage. 

These are all things we can be proud of. But the truth is that the government regularly undermines these same commitments with its own action and inaction – and it is time for charities that care about people and nature to call this out. 

We are in good company. In June 2021, the Committee on Climate Change, established by the Climate Change Act as the government’s independent advisory body, published its annual review of the UK’s progress on it’s legally binding climate targets. It found that in the previous  year the government has made historic climate promises, but has done little to nothing to deliver on them, so that the UK government was now badly off track to deliver on its ‘world leading’ targets. It is failing to deliver on everything from clean transport, through energy efficient homes, to hydrogen energy and so many more essential solutions besides.

And it’s not just a ‘failure to deliver’; the government is actively undermining its own stated vision and promises to achieve it. For example, at the beginning of 2020, Prime Minister Johnson said: ‘unless we take urgent action, we will get 3C hotter. As a country, as a society, as a planet and as a species, we must now act.’ Yet, a month later his government announced a £27.4bn budget for road building, as part of a plan to rebuild the economy post-Covid. If carried out, this will massively increase carbon emissions and destroy forests, wetlands and grasslands which act as ‘carbon sinks’. The government has also drastically cut the UK aid budget at the exact time when agreement on how rich countries will deliver on their past promise of providing $100 bn of aid to help poor countries address climate change, is critical for agreeing much steeper and faster emission cuts at COP26 (the UK aid cuts reportedly scuppered a bolder agreement at the G7, which simply ‘affirmed’ the previous $100 bn promise).

The 2015 Paris accord aimed to keep global temperature rise as close to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels as possible. Scientists have since confirmed that anything more would spell widespread catastrophe for people and nature; and that in the next decade we must reduce greenhouse emissions by more than 40% and restore our carbon sinks, to have a fighting chance of keeping the right side of 1.5 degrees. Decisions on how to do that must be made at COP26, in the UK, in four months time.  

It is a privilege as well as a responsibility for the UK to host and chair the summit.

Our government is in a unique position to steer the international community to an agreement. So, shredding the UK’s credibility on climate and aid in the approach to the summit is beyond stupid.  It is potentially catastrophic for future generations. Tough language for a christian charity; but we need to be crystal clear on what is now at stake.

The time has more than run out for this government to be shouting ‘forwards’ on climate – it now seems to be taking us backwards. So now is the time for us UK citizens and Christians to take just a few minutes to raise our voices together, to help our government understand the urgency of changing its ways on climate change. 

The best way we can do this is by supporting the proposals of the Climate Coalition, of which A Rocha UK is an active member. Please sign the Time is Now declaration calling on the Prime Minister to take much bolder and more consistent climate action before COP26; and when you have done that, email your MP asking them to endorse the Climate Coalition’s Ten Point Plan to get the UK back on track with its own targets. Then tell your friends and church, and encourage as many other people as you can to do the same. Then pray for changes in hearts and minds in high places. That would be climate leadership by citizens. And that is the least we can do with the huge responsibility and privilege of the UK as the host of this COP26. 

Cover Image: Combine Harvester working in a wheat field at harvest, by Hugh Williamson / Alamy

Written by Andy Atkins, CEO for our July 2021 eNews.

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One response on “Government credibility matters for climate leadership


    Totally agree, Andy.