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Starmer’s ‘mother of all U-turns’ on £28-billion green pledge is the latest environmental tragedy

Starmer’s ‘mother of all U-turns’ on £28-billion green pledge is the latest environmental tragedy

Unlike the slogan used to devastating effect in the 1978 Tory ad campaign against their rivals, Labour is now working.

Its leader has, in fact, been working very hard — at systematically laying waste to Labour’s most inspiring plans including a national care service, scrapping the House of Lords, a wealth tax, and, most recently, its promise of £28 billion (€32.7bn) a year in green investment.

With a colossal lack of vision, Sir Keir Starmer blamed what has rightly been dubbed his “mother of all U-turns” on environmental investment on a shortage of cash, and claimed the so-called “radical” policy is no longer affordable as the Tories had crashed the economy.

By moving to the centre, focusing on an economic blame game, and demolishing his flagship election policies by producing an apparently “bombproof“ manifesto designed to finish the Tories’ cruel run of power without alienating conservative-leaning UK voters, the former lawyer is robbing future generations of the hope of a brighter, sustainable future.

His shameful policy flip-flopping not only makes him more like Rishi Sunak than Rishi Sunak — it is also a sign he is part of the disturbing trend sweeping Europe that is seeing left-wing and liberal politicians bend to the far-right’s demands and scrapping decades of hard-won climate policy.

The far right is co-opting everything just to make it worse

In the EU, this trend has been catalysed by the ongoing destructive farmers' protests which have been cynically co-opted by the rising far-right.

The farmers’ demonstrations over what they see as "over-regulation" on vital environmental issues, including pesticide use, has seen Europe’s once-strong leadership cave to their demands and rollback its promises to tackle industrial pollution — and even some of its targets on emissions and net-zero goals.

In the US, if the nightmare scenario of Donald Trump seizing power becomes a reality during this year’s vital elections, he will trample over environmental pledges and devastate the planet.

We have just been hit with the fact global average air temperatures started rising above 1.5°C almost every day since ... El Niño started. Yet as the West gears up to the most pivotal election year in a generation, everywhere we look we are losing green leadership.

A paramedic washes his face with water to cool himself off after dropping a patient at Lalitpur district hospital, in Banpur, June 2023
A paramedic washes his face with water to cool himself off after dropping a patient at Lalitpur district hospital, in Banpur, June 2023 - AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh

World leaders opening the door to right-wingers who despise even the concept of climate change as we hurtle towards EU-wide elections in June is a massive problem, not only for democracy but our shared futures.

We have just been hit with the fact global average air temperatures started rising above 1.5°C almost every day since the natural climate warming phenomenon known as El Niño started.

Yet as the West gears up to the most pivotal election year in a generation, everywhere we look we are losing green leadership.

Unprecedented promises need unprecedented action

Their loss of vision and shameful U-turns on pledges vital to our planet is even more astounding given the groundbreaking progress made at last year’s COP28.

Against seemingly insurmountable odds, the historic UAE Consensus was agreed upon by nearly 200 nations at the summit, giving a clear blueprint for not only keeping the global temperature rise below 1.5°C, but also laying out a roadmap for the global transition away from fossil fuels, as well as a target to triple renewable energy capacity by 2030, and a commitment to end deforestation in the same period.

But COP28 President Dr Sultan Al Jaber is now warning the leaders who signed the accord to follow up their unprecedented promises on fossil fuel use with “unprecedented” action.

Workers put up a panel on the rooftop of a residence in Gurugram on the outskirts of New Delhi, February 2024
Workers put up a panel on the rooftop of a residence in Gurugram on the outskirts of New Delhi, February 2024 - AP Photo/Manish Swarup

Speaking last week at the Paris Headquarters of the International Energy Agency, he urged: “All Parties who signed the UAE Consensus must work on enhancing their Nationally Determined Contributions, ahead of the next cycle in 2025."

"That work needs to start right now. They need to adopt comprehensive economy-wide emission reduction targets, that cover all greenhouse gases, are aligned with the science and keep 1.5°C in reach.”

Dr Al Jaber called the 1.5°C goal the guiding “north star” of the UAE Consensus’ climate goals and warned the deal was only sealed due to “solidarity” overcoming “polarisation” and “finger-pointing”.

The key to the consensus is far from only words of hope — it shows exactly how sustainability can be achieved.

We need leaders, not U-turners

Finance is the central enabler for climate action, it states every source of funding, from public to multilateral and private, must be deployed to fight extreme weather change.

Dr Al Jaber stated in his Paris speech the world also needs to use “new models of blended finance” that have the power to leverage “concessional, catalytic and investment funds to ensure that climate progress fully extends to the Global South”.

His mix of messages of hope with practical and visionary solutions is what is missing from the likes of Starmer’s rhetoric and plans — or rather, what is now left of them.

Instead of U-turners, we need leaders who make the achievements of COP28 — and Dr Al Jaber’s call to action — their guiding light on how to call for, plan, and then put into action the radical transformation required to fight climate change.

As it stands, the likes of Starmer are consistently failing the world by U-turning on burning issues including green pledges without any consequence for themselves — but devastating knock-on effects for the planet.

Yes, Labour needs to win the next British election as the Tories long ago walked away from their green commitments.

But Starmer must also grab victory on an agenda of meaningful, and hopeful, change — not by joining the global epidemic of broken political promises.

If he fails, the UK risks more years of Tory rule, the rise of extremism and the legitimisation of the far-right — now a dangerous mainstream force in Europe — as well as the devastation of our planet.

Isabel Schatzschneider is an environmental activist and commentator on EU environment policy. She is a Research Associate at the Friedrich-Alexander University, Erlangen-Nüremberg, and former researcher at the Schweisfurth Foundation in Munich.

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