UK election debates must make climate crisis a key issue, say green groups

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The climate crisis must be discussed as a key priority in the TV debates between Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer, say green groups.

A number of NGOs have written to the TV networks expected to host the live debates, the first of which is on Tuesday at 9pm on ITV.

“Support for climate action remains overwhelmingly high among all demographics of the UK public,” says the letter. “As broadcasters you have a duty to ensure that general election coverage reflects the public’s desire to see strong and serious leadership on climate and nature recovery – and a genuine debate about the solutions.”

They asked for the subject to be examined in detail in the context of the campaign. “We ask you to make a commitment to ensure that the main parties’ plans to meet our legal climate and nature targets are properly examined during the course of this campaign and communicated to the public,” the groups wrote.

Green campaigners are concerned that the climate is not a more prominent item for discussion as parties gear up for the vote on 4 July.

Hirra Khan Adeogun, co-director of the climate charity Possible, which coordinated the letter, said: “Where is the climate in this election? It’s a top five issue for the public, but you wouldn’t think it when you listen to our party leaders. We need our leading broadcasters to get the campaigns away from gaffes and infighting and on to the real issues. Climate solutions can bring down bills, bring up quality of life and bring the country together – so let’s have a conversation about it.”

During the 2019 election campaign, an hour-long climate debate among the leaders of all the UK’s main parties was hosted by Channel 4. Boris Johnson, who was then prime minister and bidding for re-election, failed to turn up, and his place was taken by a large and slowly melting lump of ice.

Nigel Farage was the only other political leader to skip the 2019 debate, in which Jeremy Corbyn of Labour, Jo Swinson of the Liberal Democrats, Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish National party, Sian Berry of the Green party, and Adam Price of Plaid Cymru took part.

Smaller parties are already concerned that in this election they are being squeezed out of broadcasting coverage, with the first debate at least scheduled to be just a head to head between Sunak and Starmer, in the style of US presidential election debates. A high court ruling in 2019 found that broadcasters would not breach their impartiality rules by doing so.

The civil society groups signing the letter, which was sent to broadcasters on Friday, were Possible, Green Alliance, WWF, Greenpeace UK, the RSPB, the National Trust, the Wildlife Trusts, Hope for the Future, the Climate Coalition, and Wildlife and Countryside Link.

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A BBC spokesperson said: “More than ever before, the BBC is putting audiences at the centre of our election coverage. We will ask the questions they want us to ask, and report on the issues that matter most to them.

“We are committed to covering a range of topics across the breadth of our output including the environment and climate, and will provide analysis for each of the parties’ plans should they be elected. Furthermore, it’s not uncommon for campaigners to seek further coverage for the causes they champion.”

The letter was sent to the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky and Global.


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