Why we need to read the small print of the Tories’ fossil fuel pledge

Today is the Climate Adaptation Summit

The world is still grappling with the Covid-19 crisis which has claimed the lives of more than 2 million people across the world. While the focus of world leaders has rightly been on fighting this deadly virus – the challenge of the climate emergency has only worsened.

2020 gave us a harrowing insight into the toll the climate crisis will continue to take unless we act now – large swathes of the UK under water, Australia on fire and deadly cyclones tearing communities apart in Bangladesh and India.

The climate crisis is wreaking havoc on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities wherever they are in the world. Whether extreme droughts causing food scarcity in Madagascar means a mother cannot feed her children or flooding in Merthyr Tydfil means entire families are uprooted from their homes- it’s the climate crisis that binds us together, despite the distance between us. Tackling the climate emergency will benefit us all and in our increasingly interconnected world, as the pandemic has shown, if one community is threatened, we are all threatened.

And this threat is only set to get worse.

As we see more and more weather-related disasters across the world, it is predicted 200 million people will require humanitarian assistance to protect against climate change each year by 2050 and 2 billion by the end of the century.

Development aid is often the UK’s first responder and last line of defence against international climate disaster, but the UK Government’s failure to rise to the scale of the challenge coupled with slashing the aid budget means that real families – the direct human casualties of environmental degradation- will continue to pay the price.

As COP26 President the UK Government has an opportunity to drive climate ambition and ensure global international climate policies are proportionate to the challenges we face. Instead, Boris Johnson has tried to sell empty rhetoric and hollow soundbites to the British public.

Take the UK Government’s commitment in December to end fossil fuel projects overseas, for example. A welcome move and one which the Labour Party, charities and activists have consistently called for, but one which is overshadowed with dithering and delay.

Behind the soundbite is a rehashed commitment the government has already made to consult with business and industry on the impact of ending fossil fuels. And there’s no sense of urgency or commitment to engage with those actually living on the edge of the climate crisis, displaced from their homes because fossil fuels burn near-by and delicate ecosystems vital to sustain livelihoods are poisoned.

And in the meantime, the slew of dirty investment continues.

The government is still openly considering funding fossil fuel projects in the oil and gas sector, meaning the 17 fossil fuel projects currently under consideration by UK Export Finance could still receive the green light and requisite funding; with multi-year contracts potentially locking the UK in to fossil fuel investments for years to come.

The policy incoherence of this government is stark. £38 million of UK aid was spent to provide life-saving and early recovery support to the most vulnerable affected by cyclones in Mozambique last year. Yet the UK is persisting with projects like the controversial Mozambique gas pipeline which would see £1bn of UK investment and cause immeasurable suffering. According to the Government’s own impact assessment, it would permanently displace nearly 3,000 local residents, strip means of livelihoods and exacerbate the effects of climate change.

At the UK Africa Summit a year ago, Boris Johnson claimed “not another penny” of UK taxpayer money will be invested propping up dirty energy production in developing countries, but the Government’s actions in Mozambique and elsewhere is a far cry from that ambition.

The Government has finally acknowledged the damage to people and planet fossil fuels continue to cause, yet it has failed to take swift and decisive action to break the chain of reliance on them. The climate crisis costs lives. This Tory Government’s dither and delay will continue to lock vulnerable communities into the fossil fuel era for years to come, entrenching climate injustice and inequalities.

Ambition without action is fantasy. With no clear plan on tackling fossil fuels the Government is failing to live up to its own creed on climate. The new Biden administration and his commitment to re-join the Paris Climate Agreement and revoke the Keystone XL pipeline permit will bring a renewed sense of climate ambition to the global stage that will reverberate across the world.

With the pressure on for the UK to keep up the pace and step up, it’s high time the Prime Minister put the health of people and planet first and showed the climate ambition we’ve all been waiting for.

Anna McMorrin is the Shadow Minister for International Development and Member of Parliament for Cardiff North

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