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UK scientists urge parties to have ambitious climate plans



By Esme StallardClimate and science reporter, BBC News

PA Media Rishi Sunak holds up a green briefcase which reads COP26 in front of a globePA Media

The UK hosted the annual global climate summit COP26 in 2021 in Glasgow.

All parties should commit to an “ambitious” programme of climate policies, say a group of the UK’s leading climate scientists.

In an open letter, published on Monday, the academics said if the parties do not make this pledge they are not deserving of support.

It comes as the political parties are expected to announce their manifestos for the July election.

The UK currently has a target to reduce its planet-warming gases to net zero by 2050.

The letter has been signed by 408 members of the UK’s climate science community – some of the most distinguished of the country’s academics.

Recognisable names include Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, Professor Emily Shuckburgh and Professor Sir David King who was the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser between 2000 and 2007. He was considered instrumental in raising the issue of climate change within the government, which led to the Climate Change Act being signed in 2008.

This latest intervention in the election follows a plea to the UK’s TV networks from environmental groups to make sure climate change is discussed in the upcoming debates.

The letter published on Monday called on the party leaders to take five specific actions, including:

  • Accelerating action to help the UK adapt to climate change
  • Increase funding for developing countries, and
  • Lead by example internationally on climate change

The UK was the first major economy to set a net zero emissions target but last year the government’s independent advisors said it had lost its leadership on the issue following a change to a number of policies including delaying the ban on petrol and diesel vehicles.

As well as highlighting the need for any future government to support poorer countries in their efforts on climate change, the letter also points out that UK residents are already feeling the effects of a warming planet.

The scientists draw attention to the summer heatwave of 2022 that saw thousands of excess deaths and devastation to agricultural yields as a result of 40C temperatures.

The letter says if a party leader does not make climate change a priority they “will place the prosperity and well-being of the British people at severe risk”.

A Labour spokesperson said in response: “Labour will make Britain the first major country in the world to deliver clean power by 2030, end new oil and gas licenses in the North Sea, and making the UK a climate finance leader with 1.5 degrees transition plans.”

In response to the letter the Green Party told the BBC: “Here we have 408 scholars who have dedicated their careers to understanding the climate crisis demanding not more words, but real action.

“Their call for an ambitious climate programme aligns closely with how The Green Party sees the role of political and government leadership in transitioning us to a more sustainable and secure future.”

A Liberal Democrat spokesperson said in response that they are “ready to lead the way with ambitious policies to tackle climate change; cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2045 while reducing the bills that have been hurting families and businesses.”

A Plaid Cymru spokesperson said the party: “reaffirms our commitment to reaching net zero targets in Wales by 2035 and reversing biodiversity decline by 2030. A key pillar of achieving this in Wales is securing energy independence for our nation – including control over our natural resources through devolution of the £835m worth crown estate and full control over energy powers without any conditions set by the UK Government.”

On Friday, during the BBC’s election debate, Conservative cabinet minister Penny Mordaunt said: “What is critical is if you want to reach net zero by 2050 you have to do it with people [on board].”

“We are going to do this at a pace that people can afford… if you do this too fast you destroy our supply chain.”

During the same debate Nigel Farage, leader of the Reform Party, said: “At the moment we are pursuing completely unrealistic climate pledges. It is impossible and unaffordable.”

Stephen Flynn, Westminster leader of the SNP, said: “Net Zero is economic growth, the opportunities are huge but we have to grasp them.”

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