Sunak is avoiding accountability by not selecting a chairperson for the Climate Change Committee.
It has been alleged that Rishi Sunak is attempting to evade examination of his environmental plans following the revelation that his administration has not selected a new chair for the independent climate change committee for over a year and a half.
Experienced environmental experts stated that they suspect Sunak of intentionally delaying the selection of a replacement for Lord Deben, who had previously announced his resignation in July 2022. This delay may be in order to prevent criticism for his changes in stance on environmental matters until after a general election.
The Observer can reveal that peer and former Tory minister David Willetts, who had been seen as the clear favourite, was interviewed for the post last summer but has since had no further contact at all from the government about the job and no indication as to whether he is still being considered.
Others who were considered for the five-year position last summer, such as former Conservative minister Richard Benyon and former head of the environment agency Emma Howard Boyd, along with the head hunters responsible for reviewing applications, have also not been informed about the current status.
According to a source in Whitehall who has knowledge of multiple applicants, there is uncertainty surrounding the situation. One possibility is that Sunak is avoiding criticism leading up to a general election by not filling the position. Alternatively, there may be a disagreement at a high level over who should fill the role. Whatever the reason, it is concerning that such an important position remains vacant while climate change is a pressing issue for humanity.
In July 2022, it was announced that Lord Deben had been requested to remain in the position until the end of June 2023, while a replacement chair was being sought. One and a half years later, the position remains vacant and Prof Piers Forster is currently serving as interim chair.
Last week, the committee experienced another setback as its leader, Chris Stark, declared his resignation after six years. Stark will now serve as the chief executive of the Carbon Trust, a net zero advisory group.
The Observer recently stated that the top organization in the UK focusing on the financial consequences of climate change sent a letter to the prime minister expressing disapproval over the prolonged search for a replacement for Lord Deben.
Bob Ward, the leader of policy at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change, informed Sunak that the delay was having a negative impact on attempts to regulate carbon emissions and tarnishing the United Kingdom’s image as a frontrunner in addressing climate change.
Amidst increasing disappointment with Sunak among environmental activists, the prime minister surprised many by introducing a yearly process for granting licenses for oil and gas in the North Sea. This included delaying the ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars, which had been anticipated by the green movement.
The 2008 Climate Change Act established the Climate Change Committee to advise on national strategies for reducing emissions and to assist the country in adapting to the effects of increasing global temperatures. The committee has previously voiced concerns about Britain’s inadequate efforts in areas such as flood protection and household energy efficiency.
One of its primary functions is to determine the quantity of emissions of greenhouse gases that the UK will release in the future. The upcoming carbon budget, which will be the seventh for the UK, will establish targets for the years 2038 to 2042.
Prior to announcing the selection of a new chair, approval must be granted by the decentralized administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. According to sources in the Scottish government, talks have been held regarding a potential successor, but it appears that an appointment is not yet imminent.
According to a representative from the Scottish government, the selection of the Chair for the UK Climate Change Committee (CCC) is a collaborative decision between the UK and devolved governments as outlined in the UK Climate Change Act of 2008.
“We can expect to hear updates regarding the selection of the Chair later this year in order to facilitate a seamless transition from the current interim CCC Chair, Piers Forster.”
According to Tessa Khan, one of the co-founders of Uplift, a non-governmental organization that promotes the shift away from using fossil fuels, the hesitation to appoint a chair for the committee suggests that the government is avoiding being held accountable for its actions regarding climate change.
The prime minister prefers us to trust his word instead of monitoring progress and following scientific evidence, especially in regards to expanding oil and gas production. Despite knowing that developing the Rosebank oil field goes against the UK’s climate goals, the government has approved it and intends to issue more drilling permits.
“At the same time, residences in various parts of the nation are experiencing flooding, while energy costs remain too high for millions of people and the UK is missing out on the significant potential of transitioning to more affordable, environmentally-friendly energy sources.”
Joss Garman, the head of the European Climate Foundation, stated: “Governments from various political backgrounds have consistently valued the Committee for its impartial and knowledgeable guidance, as it fulfills its designated role with the backing of all parties in Parliament. Its effectiveness and value have prompted other countries to emulate the model and establish their own versions.”
“It is crucial that it is not silenced or manipulated for political gain, as a means of short-term manipulation.”
The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero spokesperson stated that the government is dedicated to achieving its net zero goals and will choose a replacement for Lord Deben at a later time.