Rishi Sunak urges major polluting countries to 'step up' as he defends UK’s net zero U-turns

The prime minister defended Britain's record on the environment at the COP28 climate summit, saying the UK was 'leading by example'. ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana reports

Rishi Sunak has urged major polluting countries to "step up" and follow the UK’s lead in slashing emissions as he defended recent net zero U-turns.

Speaking at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai he said the world "needed to do more to tackle climate change" as he called on the world's biggest emitters to double their efforts to tackle the emergency.

“We’ve made real progress, including at the Glasgow summit. But the climate science and mounting evidence of climate-related disasters show that we’re not moving quickly or effectively enough," he said.

“So I’m calling on major emitters to dramatically accelerate delivery on what they’ve already promised. Everyone can do more."

Rishi Sunak is in Dubai for the Cop28 climate summit Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

But his comments come after he scaled back a host of pledges designed to help the UK reach net zero by 2050 and vowed to “max out” the UK’s oil and gas reserves by granting new North Sea drilling licences.

He faced criticism for slowing the pace at which petrol and diesel cars are phased out and the switch away from fossil fuel household boilers.

The prime minister defended the UK’s record on tackling climate change, claiming Britain is "leading the charge". He said net zero could only be delivered in a way that “benefits the British people”.

"We have scrapped plans on heat pumps and energy efficiency that would have cost people thousands of pounds," he said, claiming "climate politics was close to breaking point".

"The costs of inaction are intolerable but we have choices in how we act," he said.

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He insisted that none of his fellow leaders had criticised him for delaying the ban on selling new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 to 2035.

“We’re absolutely committed to our net zero targets," he said on Friday.

“We’ve already de-carbonised faster than any other major economy. Our emissions are down 48% since 1990, compared to limited cuts from others and a 300% increase from China," he said.

He confirmed a £1.6 billion commitment for renewable energy, “green innovation” and forests “because we can’t tackle climate change without nature.

King Charles speaks to Rishi Sunak as they attend the opening ceremony of the World Climate Action Summit at COP28. Credit: PA

Mr Sunak announced a deal between Masdar and RWE to invest up to £11 billion in the UK's new wind farm at Dogger Bank.

“This is a huge boost for UK renewables, creating more jobs, helping to power three million homes and increasing our energy security.”

Earlier, King Charles warned the world is "dreadfully off track" in reaching key climate goals as he addressed global leaders at the COP28 climate summit.

He told delegates in his opening address at the World Climate Action Summit at COP28 that in 2050 "our grandchildren won't be asking what we said, they will be living with the consequences of what we did or didn't do".

Sir Keir Starmer is also heading to the gathering in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to stress that Britain would be open to green investment under a Labour government and position himself as a prime minister in waiting.

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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