The UK Labour party leader, Keir Starmer, is calling for action to transform the nation into a clean energy superpower after the British Conservative prime minister Rishi Sunak’s announcement earlier this week of new reversals and delays to net zero commitments.
In a video address that organisers of the Global Citizen Festival (GCF) plan to play on Saturday afternoon at an event in New York City, Starmer said: “The world is facing serious threats from extreme poverty to criminal gangs to climate change. Only progressive internationalist politics can rise to these challenges and deliver a secure future.
“To deliver climate security, a future Labour government would grasp the opportunities for jobs and our economy by driving forward with action for clean energy,” he added in the video, which was provided to the Guardian in advance of the festival.
Starmer went on to pledge that a future Labour government would stand “strong on the UK’s climate commitments” and also work “with other like-minded countries to create a global clean power alliance”.
Starmer’s remarks are in contrast to messaging from Sunak, who earlier this week announced a major reversal of the UK government’s climate commitments, including delaying a ban on selling new petrol and diesel cars as well as the phasing out of gas boilers.
The UK must hold a general election no later than January 2025, though Sunak’s fellow Conservative party members are urging him to set it for the spring of next year.
Sunak’s decision has triggered criticism from Tories including Chris Skidmore, the Conservative ex-minister and author of the government’s net zero review, who called the prime minister’s decision “the worst kind of culture war politics”.
International climate activists have also condemned the policy reversals, with Al Gore, the former US vice-president, saying Sunak was “doing the wrong thing” and calling his decision “shocking and disappointing”.
Despite the criticisms, Sunak has defended his decision, saying that he wanted to take a “more pragmatic, proportionate and realistic approach” to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
In a media statement prepared by the GCF, event organisers said they invited both the Conservative government and the Labour opposition to participate and detail their climate action commitments.
However, the Conservative government “declined to participate in today’s day of action”, organisers said. The group added that “this is against a backdrop of non-attendance” at the UN general assembly and a climate ambition summit held by António Guterres, the UN secretary general, both of which were held in New York City this past week.
The GCF cited the results of a recent study in collaboration with Glocalities and the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, which found 62% of the UK’s population – across all demographics – were united on renewable energy, with solar power as the country’s preferred energy source.
“The report’s findings reinforce that when it comes to energy production, the UK’s population favours harvesting energy from the natural flow of light, wind and water instead of burning fossil fuels,” the GCF’s statement said.
It added that as a member of the G20, the UK must firmly get behind the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommendations to cut emissions by 43% by 2030 in order to limit global warming to 1.5C.