‘Coal, cars, cash and trees’: PM’s climate spokesperson acknowledges ‘irritation’ over COP26 slogan

The prime minister’s climate spokesperson Allegra Stratton has said that she understands environmentalists’ “irritation” over the government’s use of green slogans, such as the ‘coal, cars, cash and trees’ mantra for the COP26 summit in Glasgow.

Allegra Stratton spoke at the Green Alliance's annual reception last night. Photograph: Gareth Simkins Allegra Stratton spoke at the Green Alliance's annual reception last night. Photograph: Gareth Simkins

Speaking at the Green Alliance’s annual reception last night in London, the first since the pandemic struck, she admitted that the government’s apparent reliance on green sloganeering was causing some annoyance in the environmental movement. “It is a mantra, it is a slogan, I get the irritation,” she said.

Stratton went on to explain the phrase, saying that the government was asking rich countries to phase out coal by 2030, with others following by 2040.

The world should also end the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2035, though the UK is doing so by 2030, while the provision of climate finance to developing countries will be of critical importance to the talks. Ten years ago at the Cancun (COP16) talks, developed countries committed to mobilising $100bn annually to provide “meaningful mitigation actions” that “address the needs of developing countries”, though progress on delivering that ambition has been limited.

“If we don’t get that annual $100bn, those countries will feel that we haven’t got their back,” Stratton told the gathering, adding that “more ambition” is needed on existing tree planting goals.

She apologised that COP26 president Alok Sharma could not make the event. “I don’t think with this crowd I have to explain” why he is out of the country, Stratton said.

He certainly has a packed agenda before the talks begin, the government “throwing the kitchen sink” at achieving its goals for the talks, she added.

The summer break having ended, there are three critical events coming before the Glasgow talks, said Stratton: the UN General Assembly will address climate change later this month, coinciding with the government-backed ‘Great Big Green Week’ over 18-26 September. Immediately before COP26 opens, Italy will host a summit of heads of state and government as part of its presidency of the G20, with the environment being one of its three ‘pillars’.

Stratton could not avoid addressing the infamous ‘micro-steps’ article she wrote for the Telegraph in July. It drew ridicule for emphasising actions like not rinsing dishes before putting them in the dishwasher, avoiding the waste of bread and walking to the shops rather than driving. “Micro-steps maybe, but all the more achievable because of it. Ahead of COP26, choose one thing: go One Step Greener,” she wrote.

“Clearly we do need to talk to people about the small things they can do,” she said to the gathering, adding that she is seeing more interest from the public in environmental matters. “Let’s take that interest and make sure it lasts,” said Stratton.

Shaun Spiers, the Green Alliance’s executive director agreed, saying that environmental issues are now “owned by the public in a way that’s never been the case” until now. “The challenge we now face is to turn that vision… into action.”

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