Rishi Sunak | What are the new PM’s green credentials?

Rishi Sunak became the 5th UK Prime Minister in 6 years following a meeting with King Charles at Buckingham Palace; what are his green credentials?

Today (25 October), Rishi Sunak entered number 10 Downing Street and became the UK’s first British Asian Prime Minister.

It marks the first time the incumbent PM will be richer than the sitting UK monarch – Sunak and his wife, Akshata Murty, are worth around £730m, which is roughly double the estimated £300m-£350m net worth of King Charles and Camilla, Queen Consort. Sunak is also the shortest British PM since Winston Churchill – both men stand at around 5ft 6.

In his first speech as PM, Sunak said his government’s agenda would have economic stability and confidence at its hear, but he warned of “difficult decisions to come”.

Since Boris Johnson’s resignation in July, the UK has been in a time of political limbo with uncertainty over the policy direction the Government will take.

There is a feeling that these potentially game-changing policies are being eroded.

His successor Liz Truss saw her premiership come crashing down only 6 weeks after she was elected as leader of the Conservative Party by party members on 6 September. Following a series of U-turns as a reaction to the disastrous “mini-budget”, Truss handed the keys to number 10 to the man she beat in the party leadership vote – Rishi Sunak.

The Conservative Party leadership race, the period of national mourning following the death of Queen Elizabeth and Truss’ premiership’s quick collapse, have all contributed to the Government’s lack of a clear policy direction.

With the possibility of a general election on the horizon, there may be another pause on policy as campaigning takes precedence. However, now that Sunak is in office, we can start to see the direction he wants to take the country in – at least for now.

Understandably, the focus of the public and the media has been on what the Government’s response to the economic crisis should be. Conversations on energy security and infrastructure have also been prevalent as people search for short- and long-term solutions to skyrocketing energy costs and shortages.

The green credentials of the new PM

Rishi Sunak seemed the heir apparent to Johnson for so long. However, this summer it looked like his rise in popularity had faltered following his Partygate fine for breaking lockdown rules, scrutiny over his wife’s tax affairs and questions of disloyalty among fellow Conservative members.

Recent polling amongst Conservative Party members shows the former chancellor is neck and neck in terms of popularity with Boris Johnson. Sunak was backed by 48% of those surveyed while 45% backed his former boss.

So, how do the new PM’s green credentials hold up against his competition?

Sunak has backed the CEN’s five-point pledge card, which calls for a boost to domestic clean energy; the roll out of home insulation and vehicle charge points; investment in nascent clean energy technologies; continued implementation of the Government’s Environment Act, and support for more sustainable farming practices.

His voting history shows his record on backing “climate-conscious policies” is patchy at best. He voted to apply the Climate Change Levy tax to both non-domestic electricity supplies and electricity generated from renewable sources.

According to Theyworkforyou.com, Sunak voted against a request for the Government to create and carry out a strategy to remove the vast majority of transport emissions by 2030.

He also voted against the Government needing a strategy for carbon capture and storage in the energy industry, as well as setting a decarbonisation target for the UK to be reviewed annually.

During the summer’s leadership contest, Sunak committed to ensuring the UK is self-sufficient in energy production by 2045.

However, as chancellor, Sunak oversaw the Treasury’s net zero review and during his many Budget Statements, he included the launch of the National Infrastructure Bank with climate as a core remit and the launch of sovereign green savings bonds, as well the creation of a £1bn Net-Zero Innovation fund and funding for new “pocket parks” in urban spaces.

Despite these policies, according to reports, Sunak has blocked several policies that could be labelled “green” while in his role as chancellor. This includes delaying the Heat and Buildings Strategy, as well as preventing home insulation policies and spending on new infrastructure – ostensibly, because of the cost to the public purse.

A debate over whether spending on green initiatives now would avoid greater costs down the line is a well-worn one. Clearly, Sunak has felt that the negatives of short-term costs outweigh the potential long-term benefits of significant investment in net zero and climate policies. Could this foreshadow the approach he’s going to take as PM in response to the current crises?

Sunak has also announced he will scrap plans to relax bans on onshore wind farms in the UK, with his campaign citing the “distress and disruption” they can “often cause”. Sunak said: “Wind energy will be an important part of our strategy, but I want to reassure communities that as prime minister I would scrap plans to relax the ban on onshore wind in England, instead focusing on building more turbines offshore.”

As an alternative, he said he would prioritise offshore wind farms, make the 2045 self-sufficiency target into law, and create a new secretary of state for energy sovereignty.

What does this means for the future?

Policy and External Affairs Director at CIWM, Lee Marshall, said: “The Resources and Waste Strategy was launched in 2018 and has the potential to be a once-in-a-generation policy shift, along with the Environment Act and the Build Back Greener Net Zero Strategy.

“Yet progress has slowed almost to a stop. It is a year since the second consultation on consistent collections in England closed and we still do not have the Government’s response. Work on consistency and EPR is becoming fragmented at a point when it is vital that both are considered together, along with DRS.

“There is a feeling that these potentially game-changing policies are being eroded, and the fact that producer funding levels have reduced by £1 billion seems to indicate that environmental ambition is lessening.”

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) published the latest Public Attitudes Tracker in July, which showed 84% of people said that they were concerned about climate change, with 41% saying they were “very concerned” and 43% saying they were “fairly concerned”.

It’s a year since the second consultation on consistent collections in England closed and we still do not have the Government’s response.

Will the UK’s public climate anxiety be reflected in Sunak’s environmental policies? His predecessor Liz Truss hit a stumbling block with her support for fracking – support that wasn’t reciprocated amongst voters or MPs in her own party.

In an interview with the Times during the leadership contest, Sunak said he wanted to divert money for heat pumps and decarbonisation measures to insulating buildings for people on low incomes.

During his campaign, Sunak also declared he would boost oil and gas production in the North Sea through a new deregulation drive. The decision was criticised by climate campaigners that described the plans to the Independent as “utterly bewildering”. They said that the policy would not reduce energy bills and would throw doubt over Sunak’s net zero targets.

Sunak’s appointment was been welcomed by the executive director of the environmental thinktank Green Alliance, Shaun Spiers. He said: “Sunak said he wanted to stick to the 2019 manifesto, which was pretty good on this stuff (green policies), and Liz Truss wanted to junk it.”

“We need a secretary of state in Defra who can demand respect – perhaps George Eustice or Tracey Crouch. After five years of really good relations between the environment groups and Defra was thrown away in six weeks, it would be good if he could rebuild.”

During his brief time in office, Defra Secretary Ranil Jayawardena was quiet on issues connected to the resource and wastes sector. In what appears to be his only comments, he vowed to clamp down on fly-tipping. Whoever Sunak appoints to the role will find consultations on consistent collections, EPR and DRS to review.

The question is will the new Defra Secretary respond to these consultations or will a general election be called before they get their feet under their desk?

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