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The climate angle on ‘cake-gate’

A deadly pandemic, a growing sense of impending economic and geopolitical catastrophe, and a totally detached elite with delusions of grandeur; for number 10, partying while the planet burns is obviously just the playbook of the 20s, now as then. But amid all the outrage over Number 10’s rule-defying homage to the Roaring Twenties, it’s easy to miss the climate angle. Because there is. In fact, there are three.

Two of the climate angles are already part of the backdrop of endless debates about who was or was not “ambushed” by a birthday cake, whether or not you can host a “work event” with your personal consultant. in wallpaper, and how vast a bubble can reach before bursting.

The first is the only reason to be angry at the scandal-copalys engulfing Number 10 which unites the Prime Minister’s many outraged critics and the small band of loyalists who insist that the fixation on his voracious appetite for wine and cheese at work is overdone. The myriad of interwoven controversies surrounding Boris Johnson are widely believed to distract from the many hugely important challenges facing the UK. From the standoff between Russia and Ukraine and the continued risk of coronavirus variants to the many challenges to international climate action that were highlighted this week in an important speech by COP26 President Alok Sharma, who was Completely overshadowed by the Prime Minister’s birthday party guest list, the most serious issues are not getting the attention they deserve.

The second ‘party door’ climate angle unites the prime minister’s allies and much of the environmental movement in their fear of what might happen next. Johnson has an impressive, if imperfect, track record on the net zero agenda, and if he is forced to step down, his most likely replacements appear to be either indifferent or actively hostile to the idea of ​​prioritizing the climate action. Liz Truss openly flirts with the party’s libertarian and climate-skeptical right, while Rishi Sunak’s fiscal conservatism is the main reason Johnson has failed to deliver a meaningful green stimulus package.

Meanwhile, the small but influential group of climate deniers within the Conservative Party clearly sees the combination of unrest from leaders and soaring petrol prices as offering a unique chance to torpedo climate action. They are desperately trying to rekindle their vision of improving the UK’s competitiveness in the 21st century by expanding the use of the polluting fossil fuels that virtually every government and big business in the world has said it wants to phase out.

There is a very real risk that an early end to the Johnson administration will deal a blow to the UK’s net zero strategy and lead to the dilution of a series of crucial decarbonisation policies that are currently in the works. Johnson is said to have helped make significant progress on offshore wind power, electric vehicles, natural carbon sinks, clean technology and green financial innovation. But the unique opportunity offered by a conservative prime minister with a strong majority who is keen to prioritize climate action, a man who had the cover of “Nixon in China” to push through bold policies that would otherwise face fierce political and media opposition, would have been largely wasted.

However, there is also a third climatic angle for ‘participation’ which is much less lenient towards the Prime Minister and only adds to the seemingly endless list of reasons why his position as Prime Minister becomes untenable.

The reason Johnson failed to deliver meaningful green stimulus, the reason the Net Zero strategy has been repeatedly delayed and still lacks so many crucial policies, the reason the Green Homes grant has foundered in the chaos, the reason the rivers are flooded with sewage are the same reasons Johnson currently finds himself at risk of being defenestrated by his own MPs: a singular lack of seriousness and focus.

Johnson could have built the internal party alliances and coalitions that would have enabled an even bolder net-zero and leveling strategy. He could have argued and won the case for an appropriate post-pandemic recovery plan to truly address his government’s crucial twin priorities. Instead, he found himself isolated, even before choosing to burn down his political capital to defend first Owen Paterson and then the many parties he must have known he had attended.

More generally, it is almost impossible to see how a political leader can drive such a fundamental and impactful project as building a net-zero emissions economy without a combination of seriousness, focus and, above all, confidence. Johnson’s ‘one rule for us, another rule for them’ philosophy and his steadfast refusal to acknowledge that he has done anything wrong is not only infuriating to the millions of people who have followed the rules, sometimes at the highest price, it is also anathema to the idea of ​​a great unifying national project. Johnson’s case for an accelerated net-zero transition may be compelling, but how can he hope to get a hearing for something so serious when his administration is now so clearly associated with breaching birthday cakes? rules and broken swings?

These are the climatic angles of the crisis that grips the number 10. They risk turning a fiasco into something closer to a tragedy.

Want to learn more about the impact of the net zero transition on your business? You can now register to attend the Net Zero Finance Summit, which will take place live and interactively on Tuesday, March 29 and will be available on demand for delegates after the event.


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