COP28: Rishi Sunak insists UK remains a leader on climate despite watering down key pledges

Rishi Sunak defends the UK's climate record, despite recently watering down key pledges

By Jack Abbey, ITV News Politics Producer

The prime minister Rishi Sunak has insisted that despite watering down UK climate goals in recent months, the United Kingdom remains "a leader on this issue".

Speaking to reporters en route to the COP28 climate conference in Dubai, Mr Sunak defended his government’s climate record pointing to technologies like off-shore wind and carbon capture as examples of areas where "we are a world leader".

"I will walk very proudly tomorrow championing the UK’s achievements in this space," he said on Thursday. 

He also argued that new licenses for oil and gas in the North Sea were vital.

"We are still going to need fossil fuels at 2050… the question you should ask yourself is given we’re going to need some of them, are we better off getting them from home or shopping them in from overseas?" he said.

Mr Sunak won’t be the only British figure at the conference. The King will address the summit on Friday and Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, will also be in town as he seeks to highlight his own party's green credentials and present himself as a prime minister in waiting.

Rishi Sunak speaking to reporters on the way to Dubai for COP28. Credit: PA

Labour says the government's recent scaling down of net zero ambitions has dented the UK's standing globally and will hurt investment into the country that would otherwise provide jobs and help the transition process.

Pressed on whether, following this week’s Elgin Marbles diplomatic row and with the Labour leader meeting world leaders at COP, the prime minister was in danger of looking like less of a statesman than Sir Keir, the PM said: "I feel pretty good about how we’ve conducted our foreign policy… I’ll be speaking to lots of leaders about things not just climate change, but also the situation in the Middle East." 

The prime minister was also asked if he was concerned by reports that the UAE COP president was using his role to try and arrange oil deals.

King Charles joins leaders and delegate for a family photo during a Business and Philanthropy Climate Forum during the COP28 summit. Credit: PA

"No, look, I commend the UAEs leadership on this summit in general, in particular I’m really pleased that they’ve made incredible progress on the finance aspect of this," he said.

Speaking ahead of the climate conference, the prime minister’s spokesperson singled out China as a country that needed to do more on climate action.

He said in order to keep the 1.5 commitment alive, "all countries, and that includes China, which is obviously vitally important, have to take action."

Everything you need to know about COP28

What is COP? When and where will it take place?

Each year, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meets at what is called the Conference of the Parties - abbreviated as COP - to discuss the world's progress on climate change and how to tackle it.

The conference sees representatives from almost 200 countries come together to commit to reducing emissions and stopping dangerous levels of global warming.

The first meeting was held in Berlin in 1995. It came after a mass United Nations treaty aiming to reduce greenhouse gases came into force in 1992. The treaty was signed by 196 "parties" or countries - a near-universal membership.

Since then, a COP meeting has taken place annually, apart from in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

COP28 is the 28th summit of its kind which will be held in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from November 30 to December 12.

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Who is going?

Leaders of the 198 countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) - a treaty that came into force in 1994 - are invited to the summit.

These are some of the world leaders that will be attending COP27:

  • UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is going to the conference. His attendance will likely be scrutinised after he recently announced measures that delay and water down the government's plans to achieve Net Zero.

  • The leaders of three of the world's biggest carbon emitters, the US, China and Russia, will not be attending.

  • US President Joe Biden is instead sending John Kerry, the special envoy for climate change, with his team. Mr Kerry suggested negotiations around the conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine were taking up much of the president's time. The Chinese envoy for climate change, Xie Zhenhua, is also expected to attend.

  • After missing last year's summit, King Charles III, a staunch advocate for the environment, will be attending, as well as Pope Francis.

  • The UAE sparked outrage when it invites Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the event, amid concerns over human rights and environmental abuses. But it has not yet been confirmed if he will attend.

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