Rishi Sunak will push for an “era of action” at the Cop28 climate conference as he highlights the UK’s “pragmatic” approach in reaching net zero goals after his rollback of ambitions at home.
The Prime Minister will seek to burnish his green credentials as he attends the summit in Dubai on Friday, announcing cash for projects to halt deforestation and accelerate the transition to renewable energy.
Also attending are Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron and the King, who will deliver an opening address for the fortnight of talks in the Middle Eastern city.
Sir Keir Starmer is also heading to the gathering in the United Arab Emirates to stress that Britain would be open to green investment under a Labour government and position himself as a prime minister in waiting.
World leaders are meeting at the UN’s annual climate talks to advance progress on reducing emissions and assess the progress made on the 2015 Paris Agreement targets.
The UK Government will commit £1.6 billion for international climate finance projects over the course of the summit.
That includes up to £500 million for a programme tackling the causes of forest destruction, £316 million for energy innovation projects around the world, and a contribution of up to £60 million for loss and damage.
Mr Sunak’s attendance comes after he scaled back a host of pledges designed to help the UK reach net zero by 2050, vowed to “max out” the UK’s oil and gas reserves by granting new North Sea drilling licences, and faced accusations from former colleagues of being uninterested in the environment.
In September, he delayed the ban on new diesel and petrol cars to 2035, watered down plans to strip out polluting gas and oil boilers, and scrapped the requirement for energy efficiency upgrades for homes, arguing that hitting climate targets should not burden the public.
I'm determined to protect our country’s beautiful green spaces.
We’re delivering on our promise to find a new National Park – the first in over a decade. pic.twitter.com/SONHRmOZsN
— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) November 29, 2023
Downing Street said the UK has set a “blueprint” for reaching targets in a “realistic” way, but that it has not changed its approach to working with other countries towards the goal of limiting warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
Before travelling to Dubai, Mr Sunak said: “The world made ambitious pledges at previous Cop summits to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. But the time for pledges is now over – this is the era for action.
“We know that the technologies and innovations we need to protect the planet are at our fingertips, from the mighty offshore wind farms powering the UK to the solar energy transforming electricity in Africa.
“The transition to net zero should make us all safer and better off. It must benefit, not burden ordinary families.
“The UK has led the way in taking pragmatic, long-term decisions at home – and at Cop28 we will lead international efforts to protect the world’s forests, turbocharge renewable energy and leverage the full weight of private finance.”
The Prime Minister is “clear-eyed” about the challenges on a global scale of meeting the 1.5C goal, his spokesman said, singling out China, the world’s biggest carbon emitter, for criticism.
“The challenge is all countries – and that includes China, which is obviously vitally important – have to take action,” the official said.
Mr Sunak will also use the trip to discuss the Israel-Hamas war and call for de-escalation in the wider Middle East.
In talks with regional and international leaders on the sidelines of the summit, the Prime Minister will push for progress on easing the suffering of Gaza’s civilians through more aid deliveries, freeing the remaining hostages and finding a long-term solution to the crisis.
Cop28 takes place in the context of rising geopolitical tensions, with fears that the wars in the Middle East and Ukraine could make co-operation even more difficult.
The location of this year’s climate talks has prompted scepticism among many campaigners, as the United Arab Emirates is one of the world’s chief oil producers.
Cop28 president Sultan al-Jaber, who is also chief executive of state oil giant Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, has been accused of seeking to use the conference to strike oil and gas deals – which he has denied.
Sir Keir, who polls suggest is on track to snatch the keys to No 10 at the next general election, will be “banging the drum for Britain” and meeting world leaders and foreign investors at the conference.
“Labour will be fighting for Britain, to bring in jobs and investment that will cut bills, make us energy-independent and tackle the climate crisis,” his spokesman said.
“We see the transition to net zero as a vital opportunity for the country.”
Mr Sunak, ahead of his trip, announced a plan for nature, including a search for a new national park for England and protection for urban wildlife havens and trees.
The Prime Minister committed to attending the climate conference early this year after criticism of his initial decision not to go to Cop27 in 2022 led to a last-minute U-turn.