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Sir Keir Starmer will seek to underline a political divide with Rishi Sunak as he arrives at COP28, stressing the Labour party’s green credentials and accusing the UK prime minister of watering down efforts to hit net zero by 2050.
The Labour leader is attending the UN climate summit in the United Arab Emirates alongside shadow energy secretary Ed Miliband and shadow foreign secretary David Lammy. The trio will attend various engagements and events with global leaders in politics, business and civil society.
Starmer will on Friday repeat his message that shifting to low-carbon energy sources would boost UK jobs and investment, cut bills and make the country energy independent — as well as tackling the climate crisis.
Sunak is making a brief visit to COP28 on Friday, where he is expected to reaffirm Britain’s commitment to reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
While sticking to the headline net zero target, Sunak has in recent months watered down green policies, including a 5-year delay to the phaseout of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 to 2035.
In the King’s Speech in November, the prime minister also set out legislation to mandate annual oil and gas licensing rounds in the North Sea.
With an election expected next year and his party roughly 20 points behind Labour in the polls, Sunak is under pressure from some Conservative MPs and the right-wing media to put the brakes on net zero policy.
But in the UAE he is expected to say Britain can still achieve its climate targets while reducing potentially onerous financial burdens on consumers hit by rising living costs.
Sunak told broadcasters on Thursday the UK remained “a world leader when it comes to climate” according to statistics showing its rapid fall in emissions over recent decades.
“I’m not in hock to ideological zealots on this topic,” he said. “Of course we’re going to get to net zero, of course it’s important, but we can do that in a sensible way that saves people money and doesn’t burden them with extra costs.”
The Tories are seeking to damage Labour’s electoral chances by accusing the main opposition party of being spendthrift with its “green prosperity plan”. The policy involves about £20bn of extra borrowing for green capital investment by the end of the next parliament.
But at an investor roundtable, Starmer will argue that the push to net zero is an “economic opportunity” for workers and businesses and that cutting emissions is about “pragmatism not ideology”, since solar and wind are now cheaper forms of power than gas.
He will also say that the UK needs to actively participate in a “global race” for green jobs, and accuse Sunak of failing to take a leading role on the world stage tackling major global challenges.
Starmer will set out ambitions to make the UK “the green finance capital of the world” by requiring financial institutions and FTSE 100 companies to publish their carbon footprint and adopt “credible 1.5C-aligned transition plans”.
Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, almost 200 countries agreed to limit global temperature rises to well below 2C — and ideally to 1.5C.
Labour acknowledged that the government was pushing forward proposals for asset managers and listed companies to publish transition plans, but said this had been on an insufficiently strong “comply or explain” basis.
The party said the government’s progress in implementing the regime had “stalled” and that there remained regulatory hurdles for its implementation, with insufficient sanctions for non-compliance.
Starmer will say that by “shaping the framework for green financing”, the UK has the potential to become a magnet for private investment.
“For too long we’ve had a UK government sending the wrong signals when it comes to net zero,” Starmer will say. “While the Conservatives use it to appease their party and sow political division, my Labour government will harness it in the national interest, to turbocharge growth.”