The Climate Change Committee (CCC) has highlighted the UK government’s support for proposed oil and coal projects, airport expansion plans, and slow progress on heat pumps as major setbacks in the country’s fight against climate change. The CCC warns that these actions have caused the UK to lose its once-strong climate leadership position.

The CCC has expressed deep concern over the pace at which the government is scaling up its climate action efforts. It labelled the pace as ‘worryingly slow’ and pointed out that the government’s commitment to achieving carbon emissions reduction targets has significantly diminished compared to a year ago.

CCC Chairperson and former Conservative environment minister Lord Deben has emerged as a vocal critic of the government’s approach to coal and oil projects. During a recent interview with the BBC, he criticised the approval of the UK’s first deep coal mine in Cumbria after a 30-year hiatus. He described it as ‘total nonsense’.

Lord Deben also expressed strong disapproval of plans for a significant oilfield named Rosebank off Scotland’s coast. The project, expected to yield around 300 million barrels of oil, is poised to receive approval soon. He highlighted the inconsistency and hypocrisy of the UK’s stance in urging other nations to refrain from expanding fossil fuel production while pursuing such projects, questioning the country’s credibility.

The UK’s climate leadership was showcased at the COP26 UN climate conference in Glasgow in 2021 when former Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to reduce emissions by 68% from 1990 levels by the end of the decade. However, current developments cast doubt on the country’s ability to fulfil its promises and maintain global climate leadership.

With legally binding targets in place to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the UK faces increasing pressure to take immediate and decisive action. Environmental campaigners are calling for a swift reversal of support for fossil fuel projects and the implementation of policies that prioritise renewable energy sources and sustainable solutions.

The UK government defends

Minister of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, Graham Stuart, responded to the CCC report by stating that the government has successfully met its carbon targets thus far. He remains confident of meeting future targets. However, his response did not address the specific concerns raised by the CCC regarding the government’s support for fossil fuel projects and the slow progress on crucial initiatives.

Stuart defended the government’s support for oil and gas projects, emphasising that despite the increasing reliance on renewables, the UK will still depend on these sources of power generation for the foreseeable future. He argued that it is sensible for the UK to produce these resources domestically, acknowledging that there is no immediate solution to transition away from oil and gas.

The minister further acknowledged that the transition to renewable energy is a complex process and cannot be accomplished overnight. He stressed the need for a balanced approach that takes into account current energy demands and long-term carbon emissions goals.

Addressing the controversy surrounding the coal mine in Cumbria, Stuart clarified that its primary purpose would be to produce coking coal for steel production rather than for energy generation. He argued that currently, there is no viable alternative to coking coal and highlighted the importance of supporting domestic industries.

Climate critics speak out

Greenpeace UK’s head of politics, Rebecca Newsom, criticised the government, attributing the findings of the CCC report to Rishi Sunak’s climate leadership failures. She argued that the government’s continued support for fossil fuel projects undermines its credibility and ability to lead on climate issues.

Labour’s Shadow Climate and Net Zero Secretary, Ed Miliband, echoed the concerns raised by the CCC report. He described it as exposing government negligence. He emphasised that the government’s inaction could lead to higher costs, fewer job opportunities, weakened energy security, and inadequate action on the climate emergency.

COP26 Summit Chair Alok Sharma raised the alarm over the UK’s jeopardised international reputation and influence on climate issues.

He pointed out the importance of responding to initiatives like the US subsidies to green industries. Sharma warned against complacency in the face of these challenges. Sharma’s criticism represents one of the sharpest critiques he has made of the government’s climate policy. It adds weight to the growing concerns regarding UK climate leadership.