XR response to Rishi Sunak's 'Long-term decisions for a brighter future' statement on climate change measures - Extinction Rebellion UK

XR response to Rishi Sunak’s ‘Long-term decisions for a brighter future’ statement on climate change measures

It’s been a week since the UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made a statement outlining his Government’s plan in light of the climate and ecological emergency. We’ve taken some time to rage, vent, talk, and then: dream. Because there is now no doubt in our minds that the people can do better than our Government. It’s never been more clear that we must continue our struggle.

Listen carefully to the language Rishi Sunak is using:

He opens his speech saying: “the decisions that could bring real change, change that could alter the trajectory of our country –  can be so caveated, so influenced by special interests, so lacking in debate and fundamental scrutiny that we’ve stumbled into a consensus about the future of our country, that no one seems to be happy with. And this is because too often, motivated by short term thinking, politicians have taken the easy way out.”


Our destiny can be of our own choosing. But only if we change the way our politics works.” 


And can we put the long-term interests of our country before the short-term political needs of the moment, even if it means being controversial?

Well, we should.

But there’s nothing ambitious about simply asserting a goal for a short-term headline without being honest with the public about the tough choices and sacrifices involved and without any meaningful democratic debate about how we get there.”


And it will require a wholly new kind of politics. A politics that is transparent, and the space for a better, more honest debate about how we secure the country’s long-term interest. So, how do we do that? What is our new approach to achieving net zero?”

Yes please!

Does this language sound familiar? Well it should, because this is exactly how we talk when we talk about our Third Demand for a Citizens’ Assembly on Climate and Ecological Justice! What are the odds! 

So yes, Mr. Sunak, we wholeheartedly agree with all of the above. The issue is: you do not. 

There hasn’t been an informed, facilitated, in-depth conversation with the public to come to the decisions Rishi outlined in his statement. In fact, a few years ago a citizens’ assembly, organised by parliamentary committees, outlined what a representative sample of the UK population is willing to do in response to the climate and ecological emergency – ordinary people are willing and ready, it’s our politicians who aren’t.  Rishi’s statement last week shows that our PM has caved to pressure from a select group of people in his Government and advisors with vested interests. That is not how we interpret ‘fairness’, ‘transparency’, and ‘long term thinking’. He is talking the talk, and then not walking the walk. 

So this is where we need to step in. Yes to a new way of doing politics. Yes to stopping special interests from influencing decisions. Yes to thinking long term rather than short term. Yes to the conversation being more nuanced than the two extremes we are seeing now. 

But no to co-opting our language. Mr Sunak is making everything sound fair and long-term, when in fact what he proposes is the exact opposite. His sinister message is veiled by seemingly radical language, but make no mistake: these decisions are not made to help out ‘hard-working British families’. Instead his plans are aimed at keeping business as usual going for as long as possible, to benefit a select few. 

What can rebels do?

Organise community assemblies in your local area. Find out what the people in your community are concerned about, work together with community groups, organisations, resident associations, and more. Reach out beyond environmental or climate groups and involve anyone in your area who wants to get involved. Find out which tier of government or which authority has the power to do something about the issue you are going to address – for example: local or combined (metropolitan) authority, devolved government, or Westminster. Create a question to ask your assembly. Run your assembly and present your ideas to the relevant authority. Get them involved, make them part of the process! Are they not listening? Occupy! 

All these community assemblies will start to build pressure which we will be harnessing and gearing towards Westminster in a joined, UK-wide action next year.  

More about our Community Assemblies Escalation Plan will be revealed soon – Watch this space!


Some handy facts for you, should this come up in conversation…

Main points from the statement:

The UK is supposedly sticking to its net zero target by 2050 (which, by the way, is far too late – if you recall, the UN General Secretary said rich countries should be net zero by 2040), BUT these are the changes which will mean we’ll never get there for 2050:

  • Delayed: The ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars would be pushed back from 2030 to 2035
    • Why is this bad?
      • Ford and the UK’s motor industry body, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), raised concerns that the delay could  undermine electric car investment plans and put off drivers switching to electric vehicles.
  • Delayed: Ban on installation of new oil, petrol and coal heating systems for off-gas-grid homes. Pushed back to 2035 (from 2026).
    • Why is this bad?
      • “The prime minister appears to have forgotten that the current cost of living crisis has been triggered by a huge increase in the price of natural gas following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the UK would have suffered less if it had moved more quickly to embrace clean electricity and clean alternatives to gas central heating. If the winter ahead in Europe is long and cold, natural gas prices will rise again, leading to higher bills for households and businesses and higher inflation.” – Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science in The Guardian
  • Watered-down: An exemption will apply to 20% households who don’t have to replace their boiler with a heat pump from 2035 (when it needs replacing).
    • Why is this bad?
  • Going ahead: New licences for oil & gas extraction
    • Why is this bad?
      • 100 new licences to oil and gas will make the global aspiration of staying below 1.5C impossible. As of Wednesday 27 September, a week after Rishi’s statement, Rosebank has been approved.
      • We are one of the five worst countries in regard to new oil and gas projects. 
  • Also note that just days after this speech, the government’s Energy Efficiency Taskforce was scrapped. The taskforce was originally set up to reduce the UK’s energy use by 15% by 2030 and only existed for a few months.

Things he’s scrapped that were never even officially proposed:

  • New aviation taxes
  • Measures to encourage car-pooling 
  • Taxes on meat 
  • Seven different bins (creatives: get us some funny seven bin memes!)

Just in case these were ever proposed, he’s already made it clear he’s not having any of that. 

Also just to be clear: The Government’s very own climate change experts, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) said it was not consulted ahead of the announcement, and needed to do the full calculations before determining the carbon cost. 

So what are Rishi’s plans based on? Vested interests, and perhaps some of the boys from the think-tanks in Tufton Street had some input as well. As much as Rishi says he wants transparency, it doesn’t look like he actually does. 

Setting the record straight:

  • Sunak says: “The question for all those people who are criticising this approach is to ask them to justify to all those families up and down the country why they think it’s right to ask them to find £10,000, £15,000, £20,000 at a time.”

Main thing we can surmise from this is that what he is referring to is the cost of replacing a gas boiler with a heat pump. This is expensive, yes. So are solar panels on your roof. You could argue the Government could support people financially. But where would the money come from? Have we mentioned how much money we give to the fossil fuel industry in subsidies? We’ll leave it there. 

  •  Sunak says: “We seem to have defaulted to an approach which will impose unacceptable costs on hard-working British families, costs that no one was ever really told about and which may not actually be necessary to deliver the emissions reduction that we need.”

Why is the UK taxpayer, the ordinary man in the street that Rishi Sunak says he is so concerned about, subsidising new oil and gas to the tune of 91p in the pound

  • The Prime Minister says the country is “stuck between two extremes” – those who “want to abandon net zero altogether” and “others, who argue… we must move even faster and go even further”. “Both extremes are wrong,” he says. “Both fail to reckon with the reality of the situation.”

The reality is this: we either transition as quickly as possible, or we face a situation that even the worst cost of living crisis could not compete with. What are the costs of people losing their homes due to floods or fires? What are the costs of people unable to afford food because it has become too expensive due to consecutive crop failures?

To ‘move faster’ can only be seen as extreme if you do not believe or understand the impact the climate and ecological emergency is going to have on people’s lives in this country, and already is having on people in other countries. 

  • Sunak says it “cannot be right” to expect the taxpayer to pay for green initiatives, given the current economic climate. “If we continue down this path, we risk losing the consent of the British people,” he says.

What exactly does Mr Sunak think the taxpayers are paying for? That would only happen through poor management of the transition. A citizens’ assembly such as the one proposed in our Third Demand should ensure the transition is fair, i.e. the burden and cost would NOT fall on the taxpayer. There are plenty of pots that have this money, perhaps the fossil fuel subsidies could be diverted?

  • Sunak says: “We’ve had the fastest reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the G7… how can it be right that British people are now being told to sacrifice even more than others?” 

The UK has emitted more carbon into the atmosphere over our history than almost any country on Earth. That gives us a greater responsibility to act than any other country.

Thomas Moore, science correspondent: He said China’s emissions have risen 300%. Some of that is to make the goods for the UK that we no longer make ourselves. Watch our emissions soar should we start to manufacture everything on British soil again.

Related topics

climate policy net zero politics UK government

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