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Dilute climate policies at world’s peril, Sunak told

20 September 2023

Row back on green commitments shameful and short-sighted, says Bishop of Norwich


The Prime Minister leaves 10 Downing Street last week

The Prime Minister leaves 10 Downing Street last week

THE Government’s decision to row back on its green commitments is shameful and short-sighted, the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham Usher, has said.

In a speech on Wednesday afternoon, the Prime Minister announced plans to delay Net Zero targets, although he said that he still wished to meet the deadline of 2050. Measures an­­nounced included delaying by five years a ban on new petrol and diesel cars and delaying phasing out gas boilers.

If the country continued to im­­pose existing targets, he said, “we risk losing the consent of the British people and the resulting backlash will not just be against specific pol­icies, but against the wider mission itself.”

Bishop Usher, the C of E’s lead bishop for the environment, posted on social media on Wednesday morning, after news had leaked that Mr Sunak intended to water down the targets: “It will be another shame­­ful day if [the Government] rows back on its Net Zero policies. Shortsighted, it will erode credibility at home & abroad. This isn’t the time to seek political advantage with games. Leadership and action are needed, not delay and procrastina­­tion.”

In a statement issued on Thursday, Bishop Usher welcomed the fact that Mr Sunak’s speech had called for a change in the debate about Net Zero “from loud polarised voices”. But Mr Sunak had “set out delays in policy before hearing the properly informed debate he called for”, Bishop Usher said. “Whilst it is right that he has kept our international commitments, postponing changes leave necessary adaptations to the last minute, rather like last-minute exam cramming — a risky gamble. Ignoring the ongoing carbon emissions exacerbates climate change’s impact.”

He continued: “The Prime Minister said we can meet our climate targets without taking the carbon reduction actions the Government had previously announced. We can’t. Decarbonisation must permeate every aspect of our lives. Failing to acknowledge the urgency undermines progress, impacting business, investment, green job creation, and global influence.

“We are already seeing the devastating effects of climate change, which is hitting the poorest people of the world hardest. We must act now to ensure a just transition, it is our moral duty to care for God’s creation. Christians are called to be a people of hope; to live in harmony with our world; to treasure God's creation and to love our global neighbours.”

In an article published on the Church Times website to mark the Season of Creation, Bishop Usher writes: “It appears that our political leaders lack the will to enact change, and that Net Zero is being used as a political football in advance of the next General Election. . .

“If the politicians want any environmental credibility, at home and on the world stage, it is time to take action now, not delay and procrastinate, storing up even more problems for future generations. How short-sighted. Our Christian calling to seek justice for our neighbour means we need to do all we can to try to turn the tide.”

Christian Aid’s head of UK advocacy and campaigns, Jennifer Larbie, also criticised Mr Sunak for “preparing to water down . . . [climate] targets”.

CAFODClimate campaigners from CAFOD, Christian Climate Action, and other groups unveil a “blue plaque” outside the London offices of Shell, last Friday

She said: “Deadlines spur action, and pushing them back will see the UK heap further pain on people suffering from devastating drought in East Africa or killer storms in the Pacific. The UK has the eighth largest historical emissions in the world; that means, as a country, we have contributed more to the climate crisis than most. By undermining our climate commitments, Sunak is showing a woeful disregard for the world’s most vulnerable people. It’s utterly reckless.”

CAFOD’s director of advocacy, Neil Thorns, said that Mr Sunak was “leaving the UK reputation in tatters and seems oblivious to the impact of the climate crisis. . .

“The UK should be demonstrating leadership on the world stage. Countries who caused this mess need to take responsibility. It is clear the PM is failing to deliver.”

The head of advocacy at Tearfund, Paul Cook, said: “There are legitimate concerns about the cost to ordinary people as we make the transition [to Net Zero], but these should be met with solutions that can be funded through initiatives, such as proper carbon taxes on the worst producers of fossil-fuel pollution. 

“Globally, countries are pressing forward with action on climate change and a green economy revolution, creating tens of millions of new green jobs and industries of the future. If the UK holds back, it will not only be terrible for the environment and for people living in poverty, but also catastrophic for the UK economy. 

“Rishi Sunak must not back-pedal on global commitments to reach net zero; doing so will harm people living in poverty and is not in the UK’s best interests.”

Archbishops’ joint appeal. The Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd John McDowell, and the RC Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd Eamon Martin, have warned of “environmental disaster” if action is not taken to protect Lough Neagh, in Northern Ireland.

In a joint statement issued on Tuesday, they said: “This impressive body of water — the largest freshwater lake in these islands — is facing a dire threat from toxic blue-green algae. Collectively, we are endangering a natural asset that provides water to hundreds of thousands of families across Northern Ireland, sustains diverse fish varieties, supports wildlife and offers employment opportunities to thousands of people across the area. . .

“We are facing an environmental disaster and, as church leaders, we worry that the issue is not being given the priority it deserves. Before Lough Neagh approaches the point of no return, a collective examination of the causes and development of a robust plan to save this unique and ancient ecosystem is needed.”

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