Rishi Sunak will go on his day trip to Cop27 tomorrow, having been dragged kicking and screaming. His eventual decision to attend was an embarrassing U-turn. But his initial snub, one of his first decisions as prime minister, was the act heard around the world.
It said that Britain is not in the business of showing climate leadership on the world stage. That, because of his weak position, the prime minister’s first priority will always be the basest instincts of the Conservative party. For the Tories, it’s always party first. What is best for the country – and for the planet – comes a distant second.
And it showed that he simply doesn’t understand what the path looks like of lowering energy bills, creating millions of jobs and ensuring Britain is never again at the mercy of tyrants such as Vladimir Putin.
Sunak is the latest person to attempt to govern an ungovernable party. He is unable to focus on Britain’s future because he’s plastering over the mess the Tories have made. Just this weekend, he used his first interview as prime minister to shrug his shoulders and say he can’t fix the problems we face. This tired, fatalistic, outdated approach is a recipe for more of the same. It has no chance of grasping a fairer, greener future.
It is time for a fresh start. One that recognises the crises we face are linked and will only be solved by a new approach.
The UK’s energy bills disaster was exacerbated by Putin’s grotesque invasion of Ukraine. But it was caused by 12 years of failure by Tory governments to unhook Britain from its dependence on fossil fuels.
At the same time, we have an accelerating climate crisis, illustrated most recently by the devastating floods in Pakistan and Britain’s first 40C days.
The truth of our age is that the solution to both of these calamities is adopting cheap, clean, homegrown power as fast as we can. We are lucky; our island nation has abundant natural resources of wind, water and solar. It is an act of national self-harm not to prioritise them over more expensive gas. I wouldn’t be dragged to Cop27 as prime minister, I’d be leading the way. My first objective would be to persuade world leaders that we need to get to clean energy as quickly as possible. It’s why I have set a world-leading commitment for Britain to be the first major economy to reach 100% clean power by 2030. The ambition of those plans is matched only by my determination to deliver them. Under my Labour government, the UK will become a clean energy superpower.
We’d also use our influence to build a clean power alliance with those who share our drive for decisive action and to help vulnerable countries. We’d ensure that the promises made for financing are delivered and would pressure the biggest polluters into greater action.
For all the doom and gloom around at the moment, the challenges of climate change and energy give us something else: hope.
But it’s only Labour that recognises the opportunities we have. Sunak’s track record shows why the Conservatives don’t get this. It took months to persuade him to create even a minimal windfall tax as chancellor. And when he did, he left a gaping loophole for fossil fuel giants. Despite eye-watering profits last week, Shell paid no windfall tax.
Even now, he still backs a ban on onshore wind in England. Over the summer, he told Tory party members that he wanted to block solar projects. His approach is bad for consumers and businesses; continuing the onshore wind ban alone will mean bills are £15bn higher than they would otherwise be between now and 2030.
The truth is that under the carefully constructed image, Sunak is just another old-fashioned Tory prime minister. He is a fossil fuel leader in a renewable age.
His backwards-looking approach is already depriving Britain of the better future we could have. In the last two weeks, we’ve seen two British companies – one making EV batteries, the other green hydrogen electrolysers – struggling. There is a global race for the jobs of the future, but under the Tories we won’t win it.
Labour’s green prosperity plan would establish a national wealth fund and GB Energy, a publicly owned energy company, to invest in the technologies and the jobs of the future. From green hydrogen to floating wind turbines, gigafactories to new nuclear, clean steel to tidal power – with a Labour government, new industries will thrive.
We are a unique generation in the history of the climate crisis. We can see and feel the long-predicted reality of change, but still have time to avert the worst of its chaos and seize the opportunities of confronting it. That alternative future – of lower bills and greater security, of good jobs and a stronger economy, of clean air and water and a thriving planet for our children to inherit – is within our reach.
Make no mistake, the choice about that future is on the ballot at the next general election. The Tories cannot deliver. A Labour government will.