Downing Street has defended Britain’s decision to send three separate planes to Cop28 amid fears it could tarnish the UK’s climate credentials.
Rishi Sunak, Lord Cameron, the Foreign Secretary, and the King will all arrive at the Dubai summit on different flights.
Critics warned the move sent “all the wrong signals” about the UK’s environmental commitments.
But No 10 insisted it was important for Britain to have “strong attendance at Cop28”, stressing that the Government’s position is not “anti-flying”.
Downing Street said the Prime Minister, accompanied by a group of journalists, will be travelling to the summit on a plane using “sustainable aviation fuel”, while Lord Cameron has “different travel plans, which isn’t unusual for a foreign secretary”.
The King will be making his own way there on a small chartered flight with an entourage of less than a dozen, also using sustainable fuel at his personal request.
Mark Spencer, the environment minister, said he accepted the “hypocrisy” of global leaders flying to one location to address the climate crisis but said it was a necessary step to make progress.
He told LBC Radio: “I accept the sort of hypocrisy, if you like, in global leaders flying to one location to solve this challenge. But of course, we do need those global leaders to get together ... That means travelling to get there.”
Wera Hobhouse, the Lib Dems’ climate and energy spokesman, said the decision to send the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary to the “vital summit” in separate jets is “not just a waste of taxpayers’ cash, it sends all the wrong signals about the UK’s climate commitments”.
“The UK should be playing a leading role at Cop28 and driving our planet forward to a cleaner future.”
Instead, she said the Government is “slashing net zero targets at home” while taking “polluting” flights abroad.
Asked why the UK is sending three planes to Cop28, Mr Sunak’s official spokesman told reporters on Wednesday: “I think the Government’s approach to tackling climate change has been set out repeatedly, it’s not about banning or reducing people from flying, it’s for investing in new technologies of the future as evidenced by the flight just yesterday using sustainable aviation fuel.
“Obviously, you would expect most ministers travelling to Cop to fly commercially. The PM’s plane will be using sustainable aviation fuel, which some of you will be on. And obviously we are using carbon offsetting as well.”
He added: “Obviously the Prime Minister uses the planes that you’re all well accustomed to. But as I say, it’s in line with the Government’s position that we are not anti-flying. We do not seek to restrict the public in doing so. And it’s important that the UK has a strong attendance at Cop28, given we continue to be world-leading in tackling climate change.”
‘Banging the drum for Britain’
Meanwhile, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer will be taking a commercial flight to the conference.
Asked if he will be travelling by private jet, a Labour spokesman said: “No.”
Sir Keir will be meeting “a range of leaders” at the summit, including heads of government, while “banging the drum to Britain”, he said.
“In terms of why we’re going, Labour will be fighting for Britain to bring in jobs and investment which will cut bills, make us energy independent and tackle the climate crisis.
“And what we want to do is ensure that the UK is the green finance capital of the world.”
The spokesman added that Labour would be looking to meet with foreign investors at the conference to lay the groundwork for projects it hopes to launch from No 10.
“I think what we’ve made clear is how we see the transition to net zero is a vital opportunity for the country, both in terms of the jobs, growth and opportunity that it provides,” he said.
“We’ll be looking to meet with foreign investors while we’re there to showcase the type of projects that we would be looking to get investment for if we are lucky enough to form the next government.
“We believe there are great opportunities for this country in terms of being able to reduce bills and provide energy security for the country with the drive for renewables and we’ll be banging the drum for Britain at the summit.”
It comes after the first transatlantic flight by an airliner powered by pure sustainable aviation fuel took off this week.
Virgin Atlantic operated the flight from London’s Heathrow to New York’s JFK airport with a Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft.
In a video posted on LinkedIn, Mr Sunak said: “It’s great that British businesses and institutions like Virgin Atlantic, Rolls-Royce, Boeing and Sheffield University continue to raise the bar in aviation. Now that is blue sky thinking.”