Rory Stewart: there must be a political will to tackle climate change

The UK’s international development secretary spoke out during the Abu Dhabi Climate Meeting on Sunday

Britain's International Development Secretary Rory Stewart arrives to attend the weekly meeting of the Cabinet at 10 Downing Street in central London on May 21, 2019.  / AFP / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS
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Rory Stewart, the UK’s international development secretary, said it was easy to "say you care" about the planet but pushing through real change was much harder to achieve.

The British politician spoke to The National about the UK's efforts to cut emissions, his campaign to become Conservative Party leader and why there was a burning desire among the public for an honest politician in a world full of fakery.

Mr Stewart - also a former Iraq coalition official - spoke out while in the UAE capital on Sunday for the Abu Dhabi Climate Meeting, held at Emirates Palace.

Mr Stewart was knocked out of the race to replace prime minister Theresa May as leader of the UK’s Conservative Party last week, leaving Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt to fight it out for victory.

First turning to climate change, he said the UK had enshrined in law that the country must be carbon neutral by 2050. Some countries, therefore, were showing leadership but it was crucial to help the world’s poorer countries tackle the issue.

“[There should be] measures for drought resistant crops and infrastructure to be climate resilient. We must price climate risk into construction.”

Mr Stewart said he felt more urgency from delegates at the Abu Dhabi meeting than previous gatherings but much more must be done in the next few months if the UN climate change summit in September was to be successful.

“The most tricky thing is the political will – it is fine in theory to say that you care. The key question is how to get leaders to push it through as it can be painful and costly.”

When asked about US president Donald Trump’s remarks at the G20 summit that renewables can be unreliable, he argued that they had been a tremendous success and were now almost as cheap as fossil fuels when it came to generating electricity. “You have to argue your case calmly with evidence. And we have to convince the older generation.”

Mr Stewart also briefly reflected on his failed campaign to become leader of the UK’s Conservative Party. Mr Stewart found huge support as he toured the country and he said he was convinced there was a yearning among the public for an honest and realistic politician.

“It is about avoiding fairytales,” he said. “And saying what you don’t know and what you can’t do.”

He admitted there was a lack of trust in politicians and people responded to him when he said he didn’t know the answer to a question. “It was interesting that this was popular. People see fake authorities today.”

He refused to be drawn on who will ultimately triumph – either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt – but said the whole process was difficult to read.

The Abu Dhabi Climate Meeting concludes on Monday.