The climate emergency must be at the forefront of the
election debates

The climate emergency must be at the forefront of the election debates

The weather may have played a starring role in Rishi Sunak’s sodden election announcement, but the climate crisis was nowhere to be seen. The drowned prime minister only mentioned the challenge that defines the 21st century when he made a false opposition between energy security and “environmental dogma”, doubling down on the myth that driving down emissions will hit family finances.

In his reply, Keir Starmer dodged the rain and ducked the issue. The Labour leader called for “change” eight times. But he didn’t mention the word “climate” even once.

Faced with an emergency that threatens our lives and the lives of all future generations, the first job for any new government should be coming up with bold and credible plans and solutions to address climate change — to underpin the economy, employment and a liveable environment for years to come. And these plans should be at the heart of this election campaign where they can be compared, tested and debated — a vital step in building the consensus that can turn them into reality.

But the UK doesn’t currently have a functioning net zero plan. The Tories have come up with two over recent years – the Net Zero Strategy followed by the Carbon Budget Delivery Plan – but both of them have been struck down by the High Court, branded unlawful after being found to breach the Climate Change Act because they contained too much wishful thinking. The striking result is that the UK has never had a lawful plan to meet its net zero target or the only carbon budget that has yet been set in line with that target.

The government’s latest defeat came earlier this month, after Good Law Project teamed up again with Friends of the Earth and ClientEarth to challenge the Carbon Budget Delivery Plan that was adopted following our court victory in 2022 against the previous version of the plan. The court found that the net zero secretary in post at the time gave key policies the green light without even looking at assessments of whether those policies would work.

We had already published those assessments — internal documents that ministers tried to keep in the dark because they show that the government knew that its own policies were relying on technology that has “never been deployed at scale”, is “not… possible at current funding levels” and is beset with “inherent uncertainties and risk”.

When Caroline Lucas saw this damning information, she said it showed that when Sunak claimed he was a “world leader in reaching net zero”, he was “either lying or asleep at the wheel”.

It’s time for politicians to wake up. The court has ordered whoever wins power in this election to produce a robust plan to reach net zero, and voters deserve a chance to make an informed choice.

Televised debates are a vital space for putting party leaders on the spot. But the timing and format of these debates is currently up for grabs. Will topics like the economy, crime and immigration dominate, or will broadcasters put the climate crisis centre stage?

Over the last two years, Sunak has rolled back green initiatives and handed out fossil fuel licenses in the North Sea, overruling the government’s own advisers. According to Desmog, the Tories have taken £8.4m from fossil fuel interests since the last election – a link that should make the prime minister sweat under studio lights.

Labour has promised to sweep planning obstacles out of the way for onshore wind and to invest in clean energy across the board, developing hundreds of thousands of new jobs through a publicly owned power company, Great British Energy. But how can this be delivered now the party has halved its pledge to spend £28bn on green investment? A leader’s debate could get Starmer to explain.

These debates should also include parties with smaller shares of the vote but bigger plans to tackle the climate emergency. The Green Party’s comprehensive plan proposes strengthening the Climate Change Act further, so the UK’s carbon budgets are set in line with limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5°C.

Climate policy will shape, underpin and impact every aspect of our lives before long. But the major parties seem determined to keep it off the political agenda.

Good Law Project will continue to hold power to account when it comes to addressing the climate emergency, no matter who’s in No 10. But as we prepare to cast our votes on 4 July, mainstream broadcasters must make sure party leaders are under pressure over their climate policies, so we can all hold them to account at the ballot box.

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