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Broadcasters spend just 1m59s quizzing Truss and Sunak on climate

BBC, LBC and GB News dedicated 3% of interview time with Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak to climate change as UK smouldered

Adam Ramsay
Adam Ramsay
22 July 2022, 4.19pm

Firefighters at the scene of a blaze that destroyed 41 homes in Wennington, east London, on Tuesday


PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

The candidates to be Britain’s next prime minister faced less than two minutes of questioning about the climate emergency from UK broadcasters yesterday after a record-breaking heatwave that destroyed dozens of homes.

Neither BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme nor GB News asked foreign secretary Liz Truss a single question about the climate crisis on Thursday, while LBC’s Andrew Marr asked two questions on the subject, dedicating a minute and 59 seconds of a half-hour interview to the subject.

In total, the candidates were interviewed for an hour by the three broadcasters, meaning climate questions made up about 3% of the interviews, a figure described as “truly damning” by Green MP Caroline Lucas.

The BBC’s Nick Robinson introduced his interview with Truss by saying that “rarely in peacetime has Britain faced a series of crises like the ones we face now,” before listing threats from inflation to Putin, but failing to mention the climate emergency, despite temperatures this week hitting unprecedented levels across the northern hemisphere.

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In the interview, Liz Truss promoted her policy to temporarily scrap the ‘green levy,’ which funds projects to decarbonise the energy supply, and also proposed to increase the amount of gas being extracted from the North Sea.

Robinson failed to challenge her on the climate risks of either policy, or ask how they could be squared with her pledge to maintain the government’s targets to slash carbon emissions, instead focusing his questions on her personality and consistency and asking how she had got it “horribly wrong” when she opposed Brexit.

On GB News, Truss raised her proposed moratorium on the green energy levy again, without any challenge from interviewers Eamonn Holmes and Isabel Webster.

When LBC’s Andrew Marr sat down with former chancellor Rishi Sunak for half an hour on Thursday, he did talk about climate change in his own introduction, asking viewers: “Are we condemned to stifle every summer and drown in the winter as the wilder weather driver by climate change gets wilder still?”

Yet despite talking again about the importance of the climate emergency later in the interview, he only asked Sunak directly whether he believed in the basic science, instead of pushing him on how he plans to address the question.

“When you saw those images yesterday of burning houses, did you think, this is being caused by climate change?” Marr asked, following up with: “So you really believe in it?”

After complaining that, “in this contest so far, we haven’t had a clear, straight honest leadership about the climate emergency that we face, the seriousness of it and how much all of our lives are going to have to change as a result,” Marr’s only further question on the topic was about whether Sunak supported onshore windfarms, which the former chancellor said he did not.

Lucas said: “It is truly damning that, in a week when the climate emergency has never felt closer to home, its discussion in the Tory leadership race has been conspicuous by its absence. And the little we have heard has been disastrous – from pledges to resurrect fracking, and a foolish desire to scrap green levies, to a refusal to lift the moratorium on onshore wind.”

Yet there is plenty that candidates could have been asked, she added: “Do they back a climate-wrecking coal mine in Cumbria? How will they plug the £1.4bn spending gap on energy efficiency measures from their own manifesto? Will they commit to attending the once-in-a-generation Biodiversity COP15 summit in person? If these prospective prime ministers want to have a shred of climate credibility, we need answers now.”

The only outlet to seriously grill candidates on the environment in the last week was the Spectator’s YouTube channel, which ran an hour-long hustings with the candidates (including the now-eliminated Penny Mordaunt) on Tuesday as temperatures topped 40°C.

The magazine’s Isabel Hardman focused her climate questions largely on whether sticking to the net-zero target would mean tax rises.

A spokesperson for the campaign group Just Stop Oil told openDemocracy: “No one is coming to save us – not the government and not the media asking the questions. Both are betraying ordinary people.”

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