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Rishi Sunak is being called a hypocrite for supporting the gradual elimination of fossil fuels at the 28th Conference of Parties.

Rishi Sunak has been accused of hypocrisy on the international stage after pushing for a phase-out of fossil fuels at the UN Cop28 climate summit in Dubai – weeks after backing more oil and gas exploration in the North Sea.

The prime minister received criticism from senior members of the Conservative party and former US vice president Al Gore for his inconsistent stance on climate policy. Other international delegations also noted that the UK’s unclear approach has diminished its role as a leader in addressing climate issues.

Over 150 leaders from around the world have convened in Dubai for Cop28, with a major point of contention being a resolution supporting the gradual elimination of fossil fuels. Those in favor argue that a worldwide agreement to stop using them is crucial in order to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

Last year’s meeting was hindered by oil-producing countries in their efforts to implement a commitment. However, this year’s summit is seeing support from the European Union and over 100 other countries, including the US, UK, and developing nations, for a strong commitment to gradually eliminate the use of fossil fuels. The United Arab Emirates, a significant oil producer and the host country, has indicated that the final agreement must address fossil fuels in some capacity.

However, the United Kingdom’s endorsement of this statement has brought attention to the clear inconsistency with its internal policies. Just last month, Sunak disappointed environmental advocates by revealing plans for new legislation in the monarch’s speech that would establish an annual system for oil and gas licensing in the North Sea. This decision comes after backtracking on other environmentally friendly promises, such as postponing a ban on the sale of new gasoline and diesel vehicles and the gradual elimination of gas boilers.

Al Gore, leaning forward while seated, gestures with his right hand.

During an interview with the Observer at Cop28, Gore expressed his dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Sunak’s climate policies, stating that he found them to be terrible and very disappointing.

He stated that the UK typically has a significant influence in global matters. However, when it promotes positive actions for the betterment of humanity and addresses the issue of climate change, its impact is even greater. On the other hand, when the UK’s actions are regressive, it can give other countries the excuse to do the same.

“The actions of the UK prime minister, which appear to solely benefit the fossil fuel industry, are hindering efforts at Cop28.”

Leaders from different countries observed that Sunak attended the Cop meeting for a shorter duration compared to the leader of the opposing party, Keir Starmer. A number of high-ranking members of the Conservative Party also voiced their concerns. Lord Deben, a previous government official who headed the climate change committee for an extended period, stated: “It is not believable to expect others to reduce their use of fossil fuels while the UK has authorized a new coal mine – with 85% of its output being exported – and plans to maximize oil production from the North Sea.”

The choice regarding oil has resulted in the UK losing its position as a global leader in addressing climate change. This decision has also weakened trust in our dedication to achieving net zero emissions, and it will pose challenges in obtaining necessary foreign investments. Allowing oil licenses to be granted is illogical from an economic standpoint.

Former environment minister Lord Goldsmith stated to the Observer that the Prime Minister’s approach towards the environment is disorganized and inconsistent. The UK’s reputation as a global leader in environmental issues has been tarnished and our allies view us as an unreliable annoyance.

A close associate of Boris Johnson stated that “consistency is key to making advances in this highly significant agenda. It is crucial that the UK maintains its position as a global leader in this endeavor.”

Former Cop president and ex-cabinet minister, Sir Alok Sharma, expressed his approval of the UK’s international action. He also emphasized the need for domestic policies that align with our international position.

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Officials from various nations expressed their discontent with the UK’s position, according to statements made to the Observer. Spain’s Minister of Environment, Teresa Ribera, stated that it was positive to see each country’s leaders taking a stand, investing their political influence, and facilitating progress. When asked if she believed Sunak had followed suit, she responded negatively.

At the 28th Conference of the Parties, Sunak emphasized that the UK is at the forefront. He stated to journalists, “We are fully dedicated to achieving our net zero goals. We have already reduced our carbon emissions at a faster rate than any other major economy, with a decrease of 48% since 1990.”

He stated, “We are also among the top contributors to climate causes, as we aim to aid those affected by the consequences of climate change.”

Labour representatives, including Starmer and Ed Miliband, were joined by other delegations from around the world in expressing their disappointment with the UK government’s actions. Miliband, who serves as the shadow secretary of state for net zero, criticized Sunak for his contradictory messaging, accusing him of promoting the phase-out of fossil fuels abroad while simultaneously exploiting them domestically.

Jamie Peters, the leader of the climate team at Friends of the Earth, stated that the conflicting messages being sent are eroding both business confidence and the UK’s global reputation for climate action, especially with the attention on Cop28.

According to Tessa Khan, the executive director of Uplift, a group advocating against the use of fossil fuels, this confirms that Rishi Sunak recognizes the urgent need to transition away from fossil fuels in order to address the climate crisis. However, she believes that he lacks the bravery to confront the oil and gas industry within his own country.

“The biggest capitulation came in September when he gave in to the Norwegian oil giant Equinor and sanctioned the enormous Rosebank oil field off the Shetland coast, not just adding fuel to the climate fire but subsidising the project, which is mainly oil for export, to the tune of billions. The UK government can no longer have it both ways.”

Source: theguardian.com