By Alistair Smout
LONDON (Reuters) -British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak defended his government’s policies on the environment on Wednesday after criticism from campaigners, saying its record on cutting carbon emissions is better than other major countries.
Britain adopted the target of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050 under former Prime Minister Theresa May and was quick to build up its renewable energy capacity in earlier years.
But progress in onshore and offshore wind has been hampered by a raft of rule changes, prompting some developers to warn they will struggle to invest in Britain without improved incentives.
The government also approved its first new deep coal mine in decades in December and on Monday Sunak said his government would grant hundreds more licences for North Sea oil and gas extraction.
Asked on LBC radio whether he was a “dangerous radical” for wanting increased production of fossil fuels, Sunak defended Britain’s climate record.
He said Britain had decarbonized the quickest out of all of the G7 major economies. To back his claim, the government cited national inventory data submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
“We should not take any lectures from anybody about our record. Our record is fantastic. It’s better than everyone else’s,” Sunak said during questions with LBC listeners.
Polling released on Wednesday showed 67% of voters thought the government was handling environmental issues badly, the worst rating since mid-2019 when YouGov began tracking public opinion on the issue.
Sunak said he cared about Britain reaching the target of net zero by 2050 and wanted to leave the environment and the climate in a better state for his children.
But he added that even when Britain reached net zero, a quarter of energy would still come from fossil fuels, which should be sourced domestically.
“If I have to get that energy from halfway around the world and ship it here, it will come with three or four times the carbon emissions,” he said.
“The right, sensible thing to do is to use the energy we have here at home as we transition to net zero, which we are going to do, but this is a part of doing that.”
(Reporting by Alistair Smout, Editing by Angus MacSwan and Nick Macfie)