Britain’s Sunak tries to reclaim climate narrative with $2 billion pledge

By Elizabeth Piper

DUBAI (Reuters) – Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged 1.6 billion pounds ($2 billion) in funding at the U.N. climate summit on Friday and faced down critics who accuse him of undermining Britain’s standing after watering down measures to reach net zero.

Sunak, in Dubai for COP28 leaders’ day, tried to restore Britain’s reputation as a leader in tackling climate change by saying not only did his country have one of the most ambitious targets to cut emissions, it was still on track to meet them.

Repeating Britain’s “pragmatic” approach to climate change in balancing voters’ concerns with pledges to meet emissions reductions, Sunak also announced an up to 11 billion pound investment in the country’s Dogger Bank offshore windfarm.

“With all the changes that I’ve made earlier, we’re still on track to meet all of those emissions targets that I’ve just set out,” Sunak told a news conference, just hours before he was due to depart from the summit.

Asked whether any leaders had raised concerns about his decision to delay a ban on sales of new petrol cars, ease the transition to heat pumps and to grant new North Sea drilling licences, he replied: “Hand on heart, 100% no.”

“Not a single leader that I’ve spoken to today has spoken about that. Do you know why? Because most of their targets are less ambitious than the UK’s,” he said.

With his governing Conservatives running way behind the opposition Labour Party in polls before an election expected next year, Sunak’s team believes voters will only support measures to tackle climate change when they are affordable.

“The transition to net zero should make us all safer and better off. It must benefit, not burden ordinary families. The UK has led the way in taking pragmatic, long-term decisions at home,” he said in an earlier statement.

Turning the focus away from domestic measures, he used his presence at COP28 to highlight how Britain could help other countries reduce emissions and to speak to Middle Eastern leaders about getting more aid into Gaza.

The climate funding includes up to 500 million pounds to tackle the causes of deforestation, 316 million for energy innovation projects around the world and up to 60 million for loss and damage.

($1 = 0.7911 pounds)

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(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; Additional reporting by Kylie MacLellan and Farouq Suleiman in London; Editing by Miral Fahmy and Alison Williams)