5 Jun 2024

Labour government ‘must start tackling climate crisis on day one’, says Wildlife Trust chief


The UN chief António Guterres has accused fossil fuel companies of being the “godfathers of climate chaos”, and called for advertising which promotes them to be banned.

In a speech in New York, Mr Guterres gave more dire warnings about the future of the planet, declaring “we are not only in danger, we are the danger.”

In the UK, Sir Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak were challenged about their plans to tackle climate change during last night’s election debate, at a time when experts say the world is in the midst of its hottest period on record.

We’re joined by Craig Bennett, who is chief executive of the The Wildlife Trust.


Cathy Newman: Craig Bennett, in the debate last night, Rishi Sunak boasted of his bold decisions to row back on some of his climate change policies, his net zero policies. He sees that as a vote winner, doesn’t he?

Craig Bennett: Yes, he seems to, and I think it’s deeply cynical. I mean, it’s really disappointing how it was only just a short few years ago, Rishi Sunak was turning up at the Cop26 climate talks in Glasgow, boasting about how he was going to be a leader on climate and how absolutely essential it was to tackle climate change, and as a way of boosting the economy and making us more safe and secure.

And just a few years later, he’s pulling back on that, he’s flip- flopped on the issue and for very cynical reasons, he’s now trying to turn it into part of the culture war. Rishi Sunak is saying that somehow his approach is going to be more pragmatic. But look, there’s nothing pragmatic about having your house flooded, farmers’ fields being flooded all through winter or indeed bone dry in summer. Doesn’t sound very pragmatic to

Cathy Newman: But he’d say that the cost of living crisis has to come first, and he made the point that he was still intending to get to net zero by 2050. When you look at Labour’s pledges of clean power by 2030, despite the fact they ditched their £28 billion a year green investment, are either Labour or the Tories convincing on this issue?

Craig Bennett: First of all, just on the cost. The most expensive thing would be for us to face climate crisis and climate chaos. That’s by far and away the most expensive future we’ve got ahead of us. And on cost of living, actually there were houses that have been built in this country in the last ten years that are far more expensive to heat and light because the Conservative government scrapped energy efficiency measures just over ten years ago. So it’s a bit rich now for Rishi Sunak to somehow say that he’s worried about cost of living and people’s bills.

As for Labour, of course we’ve had some warm words from them about tackling climate change, and that’s welcome. But what we don’t yet see is the detail of those plans, and indeed, don’t get a sense that it’s absolutely top of the priorities for day one. And the issue is here, it’s so urgent to tackle this. This can’t be something that Labour gets around to in year four of a new Labour government. It has to be what they start tackling on day one.

Cathy Newman: I’ll come back to the policy priorities in just a second. But you heard people we spoke to in that piece that you just saw there. It got a very brief mention in the debate, the climate crisis. Do people feel passionately about this? What’s your evidence on that?

Craig Bennett: They absolutely do, and I think the evidence is clear that people get it far more than politicians do. Tomorrow morning, The Wildlife Trust, we’re going to publish the results of an opinion poll that we commissioned from Savanta, the polling agency Savanta, just took place, of the British public just over this last week, and it’s got some astonishing figures in it. It shows that an astonishing 79% of the British public consider that nature, healthy nature, is critically important for economic prosperity. That shows that the British public get that these things are linked rather than somehow opposed to each other, as the politicians often seem to present it.

It also shows that 59% of the British public are considering environmental issues at least as important as other issues facing the country, and 39% of the British public say that their vote in this general election will be based, at least partly, on environmental policies offered by the parties. I’ve seen, throughout the whole of my career, the British public is way ahead on this issue to politicians who spend too much time talking to themselves and not actually in touch with where the British public are, deeply concerned about the nature and climate crisis.