So that’s it. Game over. World done. It was nice knowing you.
In a mind-numbingly irresponsible political gamble, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak last month announced a reversal of the UK’s key climate change pledges.
His former colleague Alok Sharma, who last year served as president of COP26, denounced the move, saying it had caused “consternation” among international colleagues at the UN’s Climate Action Summit, an event which Mr. Sunak had chosen not to attend, and at which the Secretary General of the United Nations had declared, quite unambiguously, that our species had “opened the gates to hell.”
Mr. Sharma suggested that other nations were wondering why they should honor their environmental pledges if Britain–which had once led the way in this field–was going to abandon its own.
Meanwhile, the UK government’s own climate advisor described the idea that the country could reach its 2050 net zero target by junking its 2030 interim objectives as merely “wishful thinking”.
This foolhardy and dangerous gambit resulted from a recent surprise win for the Conservatives at an outer London by-election, as a consequence of an unpopular environmental policy being rolled out by the Labour mayor of the capital.
Urged on by those on the right of his party, the premier clearly believes that, with the opposition well ahead in the opinion polls, the only way he can win the next general election is by ditching costly environmental policies and letting British people continue to buy new petrol and diesel vehicles for a further five years.
He may not have started the fire, but, having recently agreed to give new North Sea drilling licenses to his friends in the fossil fuel industries, he’s certainly willing to stoke it.
He’s also extended the period during which people will still be able to buy new gas boilers, scrapped energy efficiency rules for rented properties, and dissolved his government’s energy efficiency task force, just six months after he’d established it.
In a curious move, he even felt it was worth promising to reverse green proposals that had never in fact been mooted, such as the imposition on households of six separate recycling bins, mandatory car-sharing, and the introduction of a meat tax.
He seems not to care that by watering down the United Kingdom’s flagship climate change policies, he’s pretty much condemning the planet to burn.
Yet, Sunak’s bid to draw a thin blue line through a mass of healthy green has been somewhat frustrated by Labour’s immediate and deafening silence on the subject. It seems that brave Sir Keir has yet again chosen to sit on the fence for fear of rocking the boat and giving the Tories the electoral advantage for which they’re obviously so desperate.
Having watered down its own plans for environmental investment, the Labour Party appears more enthusiastic about presenting its differences with the Tories in terms of their economic policies, principles, and credentials. A year on from Liz Truss managing to crash the British economy in the space of a day, Labour has said that in office they would extend the authority of the Office for Budget Responsibility to publish its analyses and forecasts without needing the approval of the administration in power. This would in effect have left Ms. Truss’ mini-budget dead on arrival.
At the same time, the Conservative Chancellor announced that he had no intention of introducing tax cuts under the current economic conditions. This was evidently his own attempt to distance himself from his predecessor’s disastrous fiscal intervention.
Once more, the United Kingdom’s two main parties are finding it hard to define any clear ground that might distinguish them from each other.
As the Tories lurch back to the right on the environment, Labour goes with them. As Labour declares a safe and progressive approach to the economy, the Conservatives do their best to join them there.
As things stand, it seems that the next election will be a contest that sees the emergence of the least worst prospective Prime Minister, a face-off between a pair of similarly uninteresting and uncharismatic men… a battle between pragmatists to demonstrate their greater levels of competence and their lower number of fixed political convictions, a war of moral attrition whose casualties may include the economic stability of the nation and the environmental sustainability of the planet Earth.