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Climate activists are once again expressing anger towards Rishi Sunak, as it has been revealed that the prime minister, the King, and foreign secretary David Cameron are all flying separately to the Cop28 conference in Dubai.
Downing Street has verified that the three main British delegates attending the important summit, which aims to reduce global emissions, will each have access to their own personal aircraft.
Number 10 justified the choice to have Mr Sunak and Lord Cameron travel separately, as it was confirmed that junior ministers and officials would be taking commercial flights instead of traveling with the Prime Minister’s group.
The official representative of the prime minister stated that the high number of flights is not a concern as the government supports sustainable fuels and is not against flying.
However, opposition parties and activists have accused Mr. Sunak of being hypocritical when it comes to climate issues. They have criticized his use of separate jets as setting a poor example and being a wasteful use of taxpayer money.
A representative for Mr. Sunak stated that the UK does not oppose flying and does not intend to limit the public from doing so. It is crucial for the UK to have a significant presence at Cop28, as they are committed to being a global leader in addressing climate change.
The government official from the No. 10 office stated that their strategy for addressing climate change does not involve prohibiting or limiting air travel. Instead, they plan to invest in innovative technologies for sustainable aviation, as demonstrated by the recent flight using eco-friendly fuel.
According to the Liberal Democrats’ climate spokesperson, Wera Hobhouse, the utilization of individual private jets is not only a misuse of taxpayer money, but also sends negative messages about the UK’s environmental promises.
She stated: “The United Kingdom should take charge at Cop28… but instead, this administration is reducing the net zero goals within the country while also using environmentally harmful private flights overseas.”
Carla Denyer, co-leader of the Green party, stated that both Mr Sunak and Lord Cameron belong to a wealthy group that is contributing to the alarming rise in global temperatures. She pointed out that even a quick ride on a private jet generates more carbon emissions than the average person produces in a whole year.
According to Todd Smith, a representative of Extinction Rebellion (XR), Mr Sunak and Lord Cameron’s actions are setting a negative example and prioritizing the interests of their wealthy acquaintances.
According to the activist, only a fraction of British citizens – specifically private jet users, frequent flyers, and first-class travellers – need to alter their air travel habits in order to reach net zero emissions. The majority of Britons would not be affected by this change.
According to Helena Bennett, who is in charge of climate policy at the think tank Green Alliance, it is not a favorable image for government officials to fly on different flights. She suggests implementing a new tax on the fuel used by private jets to discourage this behavior and compensate for the environmental impact.
Green MP Caroline Lucas said the “excessive climate-wrecking private flights amount to pumping jet fumes in the face of those on the frontline of this crisis”. She also backed a new levy on private jets to “make them think twice before hopping on the next one”.
According to Ed Matthew, a member of the E3G campaign group, government officials should not be allowed to fly on private jets. He believes that this is not only important for reducing emissions, but also for setting a good example.
Greenpeace UK’s top scientist, Doug Parr, stated that it is crucial for leaders to demonstrate consideration for the amount of carbon dioxide they release. He questions if it is truly impossible for them and their teams to arrange chartered flights or coordinate their travel plans.
Number 10 also maintained that Mr. Sunak’s aircraft will utilize 30% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and that carbon offsetting will be implemented to reduce its environmental impact. It has been reported that SAF is also being utilized for the King’s flight to Dubai.
The government of Downing Street emphasized that the foreign secretary will continue his travels to Dubai after attending a two-day summit with leaders from the EU and Nato.
Mr. Sunak has faced repeated backlash for frequently utilizing taxpayer-funded aircrafts, such as jets and helicopters, for his travels within the UK.
The Conservative leader was ridiculed by the Labour party for his “astonishing lack of self-awareness” when he shared a picture of himself on a private jet to announce his decision to cancel the HS2 northern leg. It was revealed in the fall that the Prime Minister had taken a private flight within the UK every eight days since taking office at No 10.
It is uncertain which individual, Mr Sunak or Lord Cameron, will be utilizing “Cam Force One” – the previously-used RAF aircraft that was renovated during the time when the foreign secretary held the position of prime minister. A sum of almost £1 million was allocated for repainting the aircraft in red, white, and blue, at the request of Boris Johnson in 2020.
A smaller private jet, leased by the government for use by ministers or members of the royal family, received a similar patriotic transformation.
Yesterday, Virgin Atlantic operated the first transatlantic flight using sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) from London Heathrow to New York’s JFK airport.
The transportation secretary, Mark Harper, who was present, stated that it demonstrates the feasibility of reducing carbon emissions in the transport industry. Chancellor Sunak also acknowledged it as a significant achievement towards making our aviation industry more environmentally friendly.
Campaigners have accused the government of making deceptive statements. According to Cait Hewitt, policy director of the Aviation Environment Federation, the notion that this flight brings us closer to flying without guilt is absurd.
The aviation industry claims that “lifecycle emissions” of SAFs can be significantly lower, by up to 70%, compared to conventional aviation fuels. However, SAFs only make up a small fraction, less than 0.1%, of the fuel used in flights worldwide.
Private jets used by wealthy individuals release up to 14 times more pollutants per passenger compared to commercial planes, and are 50 times more polluting than trains, as stated in a report by the Transport & Environment organization.
Prior to the Cop28 conference, Mr Sunak emphasized the importance of preserving nature as a crucial aspect of the Conservative party’s efforts to address climate change. This was accompanied by the government’s proposal for an English national park and increased safeguards for trees and urban wildlife habitats.
Sir Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour party, will be present at the Cop28 conference in Dubai. He is anticipated to have a longer stay compared to Mr Sunak, with the aim of promoting Britain and advocating for his green employment proposal.