Our climate change record is strong, minister says

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By Kate Whannel
Political reporter, BBC News

Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho has defended the government’s environmental record following criticism from the outgoing boss of the climate watchdog.

Head of the Climate Change Committee, Chris Stark, told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg that Rishi Sunak had “set us back” on climate change.

Ms Coutinho said the government had a “very strong track record of delivery”.

However, she also said it did not want to “heap costs on families” in its pursuit of net zero targets.

The UK is committed by law to ensuring that by 2050 its emissions will be net zero – meaning the country will no longer be adding to the total amount of greenhouse gases – such as carbon dioxide and methane – in the atmosphere.

Last year, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a major shift in the government’s approach – including delaying a ban on new petrol and diesel cars and weakening targets on phasing out gas boilers.

Labour in February rowed back an earlier commitment on environmental project spending buy a shadow minister told the BBC the party still has “incredibly ambitious plans”.

The Climate Change Committee provides independent advice to ministers and monitors its progress on targets.

Mr Stark, who is due to stand down from the body, told the BBC the “diplomatic impact” of Mr Sunak’s announcement had been “immense”.

“The overall message was that the UK is less ambitious than it once was.”

Asked about his comments, Ms Coutinho said the UK was the first country of all major economies to halve its emissions since 1990.

She said that since coming into her role in 2023, she had made changes to the tax system to boost investment in the energy sector.

However, she also argued that the government would take “a sensible and pragmatic” approach to achieving net zero.

She said she did not want to “heap costs on families” particularly when “other countries are polluting a lot more”.

Broadcaster and environmental campaigner Chris Packham said he understood the government were “giving people room to breathe” but asked: “What about their children, what about their grandchildren.”

He said clean energy needed to be affordable for people but argued that if the Conservative government had invested more in renewables when it came to power in 2010, the UK would be in a better position now.

Mr Packham also defended environmental protests after Mr Stark said campaigners were often “their own worst enemy”.

In recent years some climate change groups such as Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion have carried out disruptive protests to promote their cause.

The Springwatch presenter said: “When it comes to climate protests – sometimes we have made mistakes” adding that the methods had occasionally prevented the message from getting across.

However, he said it was important to have a “radical flank” and that disruptive protests by groups such as Just Stop Oil prompted people to contribute to “less radical” organisations.

In his interview, Mr Stark also urged Labour to be more “bold” on climate change, saying that, compared to his shadow energy secretary Ed Miliband, the party leader Sir Keir Starmer “doesn’t talk about it quite so much”.

Earlier this year, Labour announced it would be ditching its policy of spending £28bn a year on its green investment plan, but still wanted to achieve net zero emissions by 2030.

Appearing on the same programme, shadow justice secretary Shabana Mahmood said her party had had to “scale back” its plans, blaming the “likely economic inheritance” from the Conservatives.

However, she insisted that had not stopped Labour from having “incredibly ambitious plans” including its 2030 target.

She acknowledged that, under a Labour government, there would still be a “strategic gas reserve for when the wind and sun are not available”.

12 March8 February1 day ago2 days ago

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