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Britain’s year of global climate leadership has fallen short on multiple fronts, the government’s top adviser has warned, just as the UK’s Cop presidency comes to an end.

At the Cop26 summit in Glasgow last year, Boris Johnson urged countries to “pull out all the stops” to limit global heating, arguing that commitments made at the summit would be “100 per cent useless if promises are not followed up with action”.

But with only a week remaining until world leaders gather in Egypt for Cop27, Lord Deben, the chair of the independent Climate Change Committee, said Britain’s own bid to tackle emissions was “off track”, while cuts to foreign aid risked undermining its leadership on the top priority for this year’s summit.

The peer said that the turmoil at the top of government had meant that the UK had failed to lead “anybody” on the issue in recent months.

This week the UN warned that there is “no clear pathway” in place to limit global heating to 1.5C – a target from the 2016 Paris Agreement – as only a handful of countries had strengthened their pledges to take action.

Rishi Sunak announced that he would not attend Cop27, leading to criticism from Labour’s shadow secretary for climate change, Ed Miliband, who said it was an “embarrassing reflection” of the UK’s failure to deliver.

Lord Deben said it would be “very valuable” for Mr Sunak to go to Egypt, warning that the climate crisis is “the most important issue which faces him” as prime minister.

Lord Deben, the chair of the Climate Change Committee, has blamed ‘turmoil’ at the top of government for the UK’s failure to lead on net zero


He added that the war in Ukraine and the ensuing cost of living crisis, along with concerns about energy security, had distracted the world from taking sufficient action on climate.

Lord Deben’s comments come amid reports that Mr Sunak’s former leadership rival Boris Johnson intends to go to the summit in Egypt, in a move that could cause embarrassment for the new prime minister.

Alok Sharma, the outgoing climate minister who was president of Cop26 in Glasgow, said he was “pretty disappointed” that Mr Sunak would not be going to Egypt.

“I understand that he’s got a huge in-tray of domestic issues that he has to deal with,” he told The Sunday Times. “But I would say that going to Cop27 would allow for engagement with other world leaders.”

On Sunday, cabinet minister Michael Gove insisted that the government would “field the strongest possible team” for the climate summit despite the PM’s absence, explaining that there are “strong pressures on the prime minister’s diary”.

When leaders arrive in Sharm el-Sheikh next week, the “biggest issue” on the agenda will be how to provide resources to help developing countries make progress without harming the planet, said Lord Deben.

The peer said that the government’s decision to renege on its commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of GDP on overseas development aid means that countries will find it hard to believe Britain will deliver on its pledges, which will in turn make it harder for the UK to persuade others to act.

Prime minister Rishi Sunak will not be attending this year’s Cop summit


He added that the government should make clear that once it has received Tory MP Chris Skidmore’s review of net zero, it will move quickly to a detailed programme of delivery that “assures the world our commitment is not only in principle but in reality”.

Lord Deben commended Cop26 president Alok Sharma’s international leadership, and said there had been good progress in a number of areas in the government’s domestic programme of reforms.

But he added that there were also large gaps in action on energy efficiency, new building, land use and agriculture.

In July, the government was ordered to update its net zero strategy after the High Court ruled it was too vague.

Alok Sharma was praised for his presidency of Cop26 ahead of the summit in November

(PA Wire)

Government projections published this week show that the UK remains off track to meet the emissions-reduction pledge it made prior to hosting the Cop26 summit last year.

In December 2020, the UK committed to reducing its emissions by at least 68 per cent by 2030 compared with the levels recorded in 1990. The official figures show it is set to reduce its emissions by just 56 per cent.

Lord Deben said that while the government is off track on delivering net zero, it is clear that ministers have the opportunity to course-correct if they choose to do so.

A government spokesperson said: “We remain fully committed to the legally binding target of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The UK is leading the world on climate change and, between 1990 and 2019, we have grown our economy by 76 per cent while cutting our emissions by over 44 per cent, decarbonising faster than any other G7 country.

“Our net zero review will help ensure the UK’s fight against climate change maximises economic growth, energy security and affordability for consumers and businesses.”

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