As Christmas decorations start popping up in public (disgracefully early if you ask me,) one can’t help but wonder, where has 2022 gone? Think of it this way – COP26 was a whole year ago. Doesn’t it feel like yesterday that the eyes of the world turned to Glasgow, Alok Sharma’s teary speech hit the airwaves, and world leaders earnestly told us this was the last chance to save humanity?
Well it’s been a year, and as such, COP27 is upon us. Time to hear it all again. It’s one minute to midnight, the last chance to save humanity, the summit that could change it all, and so on and so on. The problem is not the message itself, climate change of course is a vital challenge, and we really do need to act now. But you can see how, especially given the year we have all had, discussion of the climate crisis will spark battle fatigue in some, and defiance in others.
Since COP26, a bleak energy crisis has hit our shores, reminding everyone that there is a very serious geo-political and economic, not just environmental, aspect to all this. Who is to blame is a topic of much debate and finger pointing, and Vladimir Putin certainly needs to take a very large share of it, however, some quarters, particularly on the right, are of the view that in the rush to decarbonise, we forgot to invest in covering ourselves on gas investment for the near future.
Meanwhile, Extinction Rebellion and their off-shoot in Just Stop Oil, may have started off with some public sympathy in the hay day of Greta Thunberg inspiring the Yoof, but now the tactics of blocking roads and publicity stunts is getting grating at best, and dangerous at worst.
All of this contributes to a tricky climate (pun intended) for Sunak on this issue. The public still stand squarely behind net zero as a goal overall; there is ample polling to prove this. But there is also a growing streak of the Conservative Party who grumble. Sunak’s original decision not to attend COP27 was an example of the Prime Minister thinking too much about his backbenchers and not enough about the public, and he has thankfully u-turned, but the episode is likely foreshadowing what will become a recurring theme for Rishi. On the one hand he will want to take the climate challenge seriously, to please the public and – hopefully, out of genuine concern for humanity! But on the other, he will not want to style himself as a ‘greenie’, and indeed he is someone who understands the costs of everything and will have his own scepticisms about how fast the country can decarbonise.
COP27 is ongoing and international progress remains to be seen. But in the national picture, COP has shown the rock and hard place that Rishi sits between.