Rishi Sunak has said he was “not in hock to ideological zealots” over climate change as he prepared to head to the Cop28 international summit.
The latest round of climate talks are being held in Dubai, with observers around the world hoping countries will advance progress on reducing emissions and stopping dangerous levels of global warming.
The Prime Minister insisted he was “proud” of his record on tackling climate change despite criticism for pushing back the timing of net zero measures on cars and boilers, and backing North Sea oil and gas drilling.
He said: “We are a world leader when it comes to climate, that’s what the stats show. We’ve reduced carbon emissions in this country faster than any other major economy.
“Our targets for the next few years are also more ambitious than any other major economy and, because of that, I thought the right thing to do was to ensure that we get to net zero in a pragmatic and proportionate way that saves working families thousands of pounds.
“I’m not in hock to ideological zealots on this topic. Of course we’re going to get to net zero, of course it’s important, but we can do that in a sensible way that saves people money and doesn’t burden them with extra costs.”
Mr Sunak will join world leaders at the UN’s Conference of the Parties (Cop) to try to accelerate climate action – though many campaigners have voiced their scepticism because of its location.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is one of the world’s chief oil exporters and there have been recent allegations the country was planning to use the conference to make commercial oil and gas deals with other countries.
Cop28’s president Sultan al-Jaber, who is also CEO of UAE’s national oil company Adnoc, has denied this.
Countries have been meeting through various Cops for nearly 30 years and while there has been some progress on climate action to reduce emissions and grow clean energy networks, experts have said much more needs to be done to avert total climate disaster.
The King is attending the summit and is set to address the conference later in the week.
On Thursday he was expected to meet with dignitaries as well as students working on clean energy technology.
Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron is also expected to join the King in Dubai for a number of events on Thursday.
The Government has faced criticism for the King, Lord Cameron and Mr Sunak flying to the climate conference on separate planes.
In the Paris Agreement in 2015, countries agreed to limit the average global temperature rise to 2C above pre-industrial levels and make every effort to stop it rising above 1.5C.
Cop28 is the first time that countries will assess progress towards this goal in what is being called the “global stocktake”.
It is unlikely to be positive given the UN has the Earth on track for a catastrophic 3C increase by the end of the century under the emissions reduction policies currently in place.
The UN wants countries to rectify this policy gap and rapidly reduce fossil fuel use – the main cause of the rising emissions.
Ahead of #COP28 later this week, The King has hosted global business leaders and investors at Buckingham Palace.
— The Royal Family (@RoyalFamily) November 28, 2023
Also on the table will be rich countries’ committed obligation to provide billions of dollars in funding to developing countries to help them adapt to the climate chaos they are already experiencing due to the carbon consumption of the developed world.
The funding is also supposed to go towards helping economies develop through clean energy instead of oil and gas, and there will be pressure on countries such as China and India to rein in their use of dirtier sources of power like coal to reverse their increasing emissions.
Meanwhile, WH Smith, DHL, Coca-Cola Europacific Partners and Virgin Media O2 have joined more than 200 businesses to call for an international agreement to phase out all fossil fuels at Cop28.
The companies are among the most recent to sign an open letter urging world leaders to agree a timeline to ditch unabated fossil fuels at the summit.
It is thought to be the first time such a large group of companies have come together to urge governments to move away from fossil fuels.