Rishi Sunak accused of greenwashing over ‘net zero flights’ and Cop28 plans

Environmentalists are not impressed by the Prime Minister's attempts to resurrect green credentials

Rishi Sunak reading from a folder on a train

Rishi Sunak has been accused of greenwashing on multiple fronts this week, both ahead of his appearance at the Cop28 and after hailing ‘sustainable aviation fuel’ online.  

The Prime Minister is due to announce a package of green measures to set off the Cop28 climate summit starting 30 November. Among them are plans to introduce a new national park and a national rainforest strategy.

However his party has been accused of failing to fund the existing national parks, with their core funding cut in real terms by 50% due to austerity measures since 2010, according to the chief executive of Dartmoor National Park Authority.

Environmentalists are calling out Sunak’s new green announcements as an attempt to reset and move on from the series of anti-net zero measures his government brought forward only months before.

Also recent polling, which shows more than two-thirds of UK adults support the country’s net zero emissions target, including among Tory voters, could factor into Sunak’s attempts to present a green footing.

However the Liberal Democrats have highlighted that, buried in the Autumn Statement small print, the Environment Department’s budget is set to fall by 11% next year, directly impacting dealing with the sewage crisis and another factor undermining the government’s green annoucements.

Last year the Prime Minister did not attend the Cop27 as he said he was too busy with the UK economy, however this year will see him, the King and foreign secretary David Cameron in attendance.

It also comes as the Prime Minister released a video on X expressing some “exciting news” about the first trans-Atlantic flight fuelled by waste oil.

In the video, Sunak declared: “Right now, something very exciting is happening in the sky above us.”

Up to a £1 million in government funding was offered to support the project to produce the “world’s first net zero trans-Atlantic flight” which has taken off to New York with Virgin Atlantic, fuelled by ‘sustainable aviation fuel’ (SAF).

However the flight has failed to garner the same excitement from environmentalists, many of whom have accused the PM of greenwashing as concerns have been raised over the green credentials of using SAF.

Sunak’s claim that the flight is net zero has been slammed as misleading, as the fuels have been challenged on being completely sustainable. Concerns that SAF may be linked to deforestation have been raised with the use of palm oil, and the fact waste oil comes nowhere near meeting demand right now in flights has raised questions over the sustainability of the global supply of cooking oil.

Sunak’s enthusiasm about the future of green aviation doesn’t come as a huge surprise, from a PM who has a penchant for short-distance flights and private jets.

Dr Steve Westlake said on X: “This is SAFwash, designed to make current frequent flyers feel better about continued frequent flying, and more broadly to give a false sense that future tech (however speculative or unviable at scale) justfies ongoing behaviour as usual.”

In response to the video, Best of Britain wrote: “I cannot stop laughing at the misjudgment of both public mood and the news cycle.”

So it goes to say that Rishi Sunak’s attempts this week to renew his green credentials are failing to fool the experts, or the public.

(Image credit: Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street)

Hannah Davenport is news reporter at Left Foot Forward, focusing on trade unions and environmental issues

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