UK politicians urged to get ambitious on climate spending

As the UK continues in the grip of a general election campaign over 400 experts on climate change have published an open letter to the leaders of the UK’s political parties, calling for them to adopt an ambitious programme on climate change if they win.

The letter from 408 staff at research institutions across the UK states: “We call on you to pledge to an ambitious programme of climate policies that accelerate action, in the UK and across the world, both to cut greenhouse gas emissions and to increase resilience to those impacts of climate change that cannot now be avoided. Without such a programme, the UK will be shirking its international responsibilities and will be losing the opportunity to promote prosperity and peace in the UK and around the globe.”

It concludes: “Without such a pledge, we do not believe that your Party deserves support in the forthcoming General Election.”

The signatories to the letter include 215 current and emeritus professors, and 36 Fellows of the national academies. The vast majority of those signing are eligible to vote in the General Election.

The letter lists five actions that would need to be included in a more ambitious programme of climate action:

  • Publish and implement a credible and legal strategy for ending the UK’s contribution to climate change by meeting the UK’s statutory Carbon Budgets and its target of net zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050.
  • Accelerate action across all sectors and all parts of the UK to adapt and become more resilient to those impacts of climate change that cannot now be avoided, in line with UK Climate Change Risk Assessments.
  • Respect and act on all the advice of the expert independent Climate Change Committee, including its warning in its most recent Progress Report that “the UK will continue to need some oil and gas until it reaches Net Zero, but this does not in itself justify the development of new North Sea fields”.
  • Lead by example internationally on climate change, including through the implementation of the decision at COP28 in Dubai in December 2023, and the commitment to “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science”.
  • Increase public and private funding and support for climate change mitigation and adaptation in developing countries.

The letter warns: “It is very clear that a failure to tackle climate change with sufficient urgency and scale is making the UK and the rest of the world more dangerous and insecure. The UK is experiencing growing damage and harm to lives and livelihoods from climate change impacts, such as increases in the frequency and intensity of many extreme weather events and rising sea levels.”

It adds: “The growing impacts of climate change in other parts of the world are endangering supply chains for food and other goods and services to the UK. They are also adding to political instability and forcing many people to migrate away from places that are worst affected. The UK cannot completely insulate itself from the impacts of climate change in other parts of the world. It is in the UK’s self-interest for other countries to reach net zero emissions as soon as possible.”

The joint letter was organized by Professor Emily Shuckburgh, director of Cambridge Zero at the University of Cambridge, and 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.

Shuckburgh said: “The UK has just experienced by far the warmest May on record, despite the weather seeming miserable. Climate change puts a dark cloud over all our futures – as a climate scientist I am fearful of what is in store. Many aspects of global stability are at risk from ice sheets and ocean currents to financial systems, food security and geopolitical order. British people are worried and polling consistently shows strong support for politicians to act. With ambitious political leadership we could protect ourselves and avert the worst impacts of climate change. In doing so, the UK could stimulate job creation, spur innovation, enhance productivity with new industries and technologies, and support our wonderful nature, setting us on a path to green prosperity in a fair and sustainable society. The climate clock is ticking loudly, our Party Leaders need to listen and respond.”

Ward  added: “This is a non-partisan letter from experts at British institutions who have published at least one paper on climate change. It sends a load and clear message about the need for greater climate ambition from the next government. Climate change has largely been ignored by Party Leaders so far in this election campaign, demonstrating that they have failed to grasp just how much it is affecting lives and livelihoods in the UK. It is in the UK’s own interests to accelerate the transition to a sustainable, inclusive and resilient economy, to reduce our dependence on expensive and insecure fossil fuels, to protect our supplies of food and other goods and services against more extreme weather, and to stop growing climate change impacts from increasing the flow of migrants and refugees from affected countries.”