WITH the news that Rishi Sunak is walking back his net-zero promises in favour of short-term electoral gains, we reached out to our younger contributors to ask how they feel about the Prime Minister's decision. We spoke to commentators from across the pro-independence movement, all under 35, about what the climate crisis means to them. These are their reactions.

READ MORE: Rishi Sunak abandons promise to daughters on climate change

Iona Fyfe, musician

The National: Iona Fyfe will perform at the next Folk at the Maltings online concert.

The very same week that First Minister Humza Yousaf takes to the world stage to announce Scotland's support and pledge millions in funding for countries, mostly in the global south, that are the most affected by climate change, Rishi Sunak flip-flops on a number of key climate commitments. Are we really surprised? 

Whilst Yousaf ambitiously hopes for Scotland to transition from “oil and gas capital of Europe” to “net-zero capital of the world”, Sunak has  admitted that whilst his government “is commited to reaching net zero by 2050”, it would be doing it in a “more proportionate way”. This is shameless, back-peddling and admonishment of responsibility for the UK’s part in the climate crisis which is disproportionately affecting areas populated by people facing starvation and war. Would Sunak’s ears perk up if the Californian wildfires reached Malibu; playground for the rich and famous, where he and his family have been spotted frequenting on several locations?

I’m not surprised that Sunak is still unwilling to take climate change seriously, I am subtly, delightedly surprised that colleagues such as Alok Sharma and Chris Skidmore have taken very little time to oppose this move. Conservatives with backbones? A rare breed. Will this cause civil war within the Tory party? Let’s hope so. 

It really is tale of two governments; and we know which one is on the correct side of history. 

Coll McCail, eco-activist and commentator

The National:

Rishi Sunak’s rollback on key net-zero commitments should be taken as evidence of the free market’s inability to tackle the climate emergency. Addressing climate breakdown requires a level of public investment antithetical to Sunak’s exploitative neoliberalism. It seems this fact is slowly dawning on the Prime Minister, who until now has at least played at "climate leadership". Now Sunak is giving up the charade, content for the climate emergency to fall into the culture war on which he intends to rely at next year’s General Election. 

Unfortunately, the political leadership to present an alternative is nowhere to be seen. Telling climate activists to “get up and go home,” the Labour leadership has junked its commitment to clean-air zones like London’s Ulez. The radical, ambitious green agenda of 2019, which included the nationalisation of energy, is in tatters. Meanwhile, Scotland’s transition looks increasingly less "just". The SNP and Greens have sold Scotland’s offshore wind capacity to the fossil fuel industry. Nature restoration has been entrusted to asset management firms. Free ports and investment zones across Scotland drive down workers’ conditions and drive up the employers’ profits. 

It therefore falls to activists and campaigns to challenge Sunak’s climate U-turn head-on. This requires an alternative vision for a worker-led just transition rooted in the public ownership of resources and redistribution of wealth.

Christina Hendry, Alba young people's convener

The National:

Nobody takes the Tories seriously on climate change, but equally Labour want to kill every job in the North Sea.

It would be an act of self sabotage for Scotland to miss the opportunity the North Sea presents towards the case for independence.

In the real world, we should be able to find the balance of making the most of Scotland’s resources to benefit Scotland’s people but doing so responsibly. New fields should be licensed but with a condition for them to be a zero-carbon development. This can be achieved by a rapid development of carbon capture - a technology Scotland could still be the world leader in, if Rishi Sunak and the UK Government gets a move on to invest a mere fraction of our oil revenues for a speedy development of a carbon capture network. Of which Scotland already has the skilled workforce and infrastructure in place. 

The North Sea has more geological potential for successful carbon capture than any other oil basin in the world. Its rapid development could not only reconcile the Scottish oil industry with the planet’s future, but also make a substantial difference to Europe’s damaging carbon emissions.

It would be plain daft to sacrifice such an overwhelming bounty for Scotland when our oil and  gas can be the engine room of an independent Scotland and the resource which is used to fund the development of a net-zero future.

Alistair Heather, broadcaster and columnist

The National:

I’m almost pleased. This is a U-turn that will leave the Tories facing in the opposite direction of almost everyone, and finally end their hopes of re-election.

Industry needs clarity on when it can stop developing new cars. So the car makers –already scunnered by the difficulties of Brexit – are raging about the Tories’ flip-flopping.

And for mainstream voters, who understand that a clear, urgent movement of travel towards a green future is the best chance we have of mitigating the worst effects of the climate collapse, the Tories have made themselves completely unelectable. Good.

This all contrasts with Humza Yousaf being in New York committing Scotland to decisive measures to reduce our contribution to climate change. F*** the tories. Mon the independence. 

Cameron Eadie, Greens candidate in Rutherglen by-election

The National:

This is a terrible slap in the face for young people everywhere. It’s our future that is on the line and our lives that are being gambled with. 

If we delay action now it’ll only make it even more urgent in the future, long after the Prime Minister has left office.

The reality is that the UK Government was already far behind where it needs to be, even before this latest intervention.

The Tories almost wiped out the entire UK economy. Do we really trust them when it comes to the decisions that will impact the future of our planet?

They know the consequences of what they are doing and of the things they are refusing to do. It is utterly selfish and short-sighted. It’s climate vandalism of the worst kind.

I don’t want to grow old in a world where extreme weather events are normalised and the heat waves and wildfires are even more common and more intense.

Yet we have a Tory government that is doubling down on the fossil fuels that are doing so much damage and a Labour Party that refuses to challenge them.

We will only ever have one environment. We can’t let it be destroyed like this.

My plea to people in Rutherglen and Hamilton West and beyond is to think about the future they want. Green politics has never been so vital.

Kelly Given, columnist and campaigner

The National:

I see Sunak’s latest policy nose dive has been ill-received across the board. The public, the motor industry, the energy industry and even the Tories alike. Unusually united in the opinion that Rishi Sunak is a terrible leader, with little vision or ability to deliver on just about anything.

The Tories have produced a litany of them in recent years, but Sunak might take the cake for being the most idea-less of them all. It’s like his sole motivation in any policy decision is just how much worse he can make things across this sorry union of nations. Is he an undercover independence supporter? If he isn’t, he really needs to rethink his strategy. Or indeed, come up with any kind of strategy at all.

Scotland needs robust climate policy. The UK Government is ineffective and rotten on many fronts, but the unforgivable plunge into energy crisis in recent months has got to be one of the starkest examples of how Westminster fails us as a nation. Scotland produces enough energy to be entirely energy self-sufficient and if it was independent, could fund a just transition to renewables. In 2021, Scotland produced enough renewable electricity to power the entire country for three years. Yet, our people are being plunged into poverty and we are being dragged down a path of climate destruction that we didn’t vote for and want no part in.

In fact, Scotland elected, and is on course to re-elect a climate-friendly majority. We voted to protect our planet, and to ensure we preserved it for future generations.

It’s beyond parody.

This serves no purpose other than to solidify the position of Sunak’s UK on the international stage - weak, pathetic, massively underdeveloped and consistently five paces behind everyone else. Another day, another Tory fail - but another step closer to the independent nation we ought to be.

Ellie Gomersall, Green campaigner and columnist

The National:

Climate change is killing people. Make no mistake of it. People are dying, and the World Health Organisation has made clear that it expects an additional 250,000 deaths per year to occur between 2030 and 2050 due to climate change.

The people most likely to be severely impacted by climate change first are predominantly in the Global South, while the countries whose actions are predominantly responsible for climate change are predominantly in the Global North – and very much including the UK. But let’s be clear – the effects of climate change will impact us all, and the decisions we take now will radically change the course of the lives of the younger and future generations.

With his announcement today that he will roll back a number of key net-zero commitments (which frankly didn’t go far enough in the first place), Rishi Sunak has blood on his hands.

His excuse? It’s too costly. Well then all the more kudos to the Scottish Government who are still moving forward with net-zero policies like low-emission zones, phasing out gas boilers, cheaper public transport, all the while on a budget severely restrained by the confines of devolution. And of course when the Scottish Government does try to implement simple yet effective measures like a deposit return scheme, Westminster comes along and blocks it.

Our over-reliance on oil and gas is partly responsible for the cost of living crisis we’re all facing today. Sunak’s U-turn today will be devastating for the people of the UK and for the planet we call home. It’s nothing short of evil.

Jamie O’Rourke, Glasgow University student and member of the Scottish Socialist Party 

The National:

Rishi Sunak’s recent announcement that the UK would not meet environmental targets in the timescale which had previously been set out is an upsetting – but by no means unexpected – development. 

The climate crisis presents an existential threat to both people and planet and the UK government’s unwillingness to tackle this crisis at the root, and fight poverty and pollution together, displays that the solution does not lie with capitalism, but with socialism.

We must adopt measures such as free public transport for all to disincentivise car usage in a way which doesn’t punish workers; investing in green jobs and a worker led just transition rooted in democratic public ownership, where workers in non-green industries are not simply cast aside in the process; and tackling the biggest corporations which are responsible for the majority of pollution. 

Only a united front of socialists, trade unionists, and climate activists can hope to tackle this crisis: not the mainstream political parties who only have the interests of a wealthy minority at heart, but a mass movement of working class people fighting for people, not profit!

Catriona Roberts, This Is Rigged

The National:

The Government reneging on some of its key net-zero targets for "more achievable" goals is not just a costly mistake, ultimately pushing back costs for a later government to pick up the tab, but crucially will have devastating impacts on our chances at salvaging a liveable climate.

Sunak has proved time and time again that he doesn't give a flying f*** about the people of the UK. He will happily trade lives and livelihoods for a quick buck. We can't be shocked that the same man who just approved hundreds of new North Sea oil and gas licenses is dragging his heels on recycling policy, but pushing back targets sets an incredibly dangerous precedent for the continuation of total inaction on the rapidly escalating climate crisis.

Sunak talks about doing our "fair share" in regards to the climate crisis as if desperate to sacrifice human life for economic progress, but there's no bloody economic progress when half of the country is underwater, and the other half is on fire.

Sarah Doherty, environmental politics student

I think it’s difficult to even put into words the gravity of Sunak’s rollback. While Shell made £33 billion in profit last year, the UK Government seems content to give millions in subsidies to new fossil fuel developments, such as the Rosebank oilfield. This announcement to roll back on climate commitments while fossil fuel corporations make record profits should be seen as criminal.

Net zero by 2050 is already far below the level of ambition we need to avert a catastrophe, and yet Sunak has decided that doing less than the bare minimum is too much. This is prioritising short-term profit for fossil fuel giants over the lives of countless people across the globe. It was announced this year that we are entering the "era of climate breakdown" and Sunak’s decisions are going to escalate this. These decisions won’t lower energy bills or benefit regular people across Scotland, they will just line the pockets of those profiting from climate collapse. 

Rachel Donald, creator of the Planet: Critical podcast and newsletter

Let’s not forget the policies Sunak is rolling back would have never gotten us to Net Zero, a biophysically meaningless policy only economists can make sense of.

Moving EV-ban deadlines and promising low taxes on flights to win votes and satisfy his climate denying donors may give Labour and other world “leaders” the opportunity to laud their own “green” agenda, but until absolute fossil fuel reduction is on the table they’re all guilty of the same harm, just further along the scale of acceptability.

Don’t let Sunak’s dangerous announcement allow equally weak and vision-less leaders the chance to set themselves apart, as if they aren’t just as guilty of perpetuating—and profiting from—an exploitative, imperial, fossil-fuelled world order. 

Laura Young, environmental campaigner

The National: Credit: Elaine LivCredit: Elaine Liv (Image: Elaine Liv)

Before backtracking and delaying climate commitments the UK was looking unlikely to meet our crucial net zero target. Now, that is looking like a certain reality.

Globally, we continue to look weak in the eyes of green industry, innovation, and leadership, and political moves such as this only put more doubt over our ability to make the changes needed for our environment.

Rishi Sunak has made a political decision to benefit the few, not the many, and shifts responsibility to other countries while ignoring our role in fighting climate change. This delay will only cause harm in the future, as each year we begin to see the impacts of climate change at home.

Not only this, but scaling back initiatives like ensuring homes are energy efficient will land everyday people with more to pay in energy bills, and will continue to exacerbate poor housing quality many tenants experience. 

George Taylor, Green New Deal Rising campaigner

The National:

This latest attempt at fabricating a culture war is already being seen for what it is - a desperate attempt to hide the Tories’ failures on climate and the economy. Trashing our future in order to avoid possible complete electoral wipeout.

In the wake of this leak businesses, campaign groups, and even his own MPs are calling Rishi Sunak out for his dangerous rhetoric and anti-science, anti-economic position. In a summer which saw record heat, wildfires and flooding, Sunak would rather protect himself than protect the planet.

The Tories are well aware they face huge losses at the next election. What we need now is for the SNP and Labour to continue making the point that action on the climate crisis is better for the economy, better for communities, and better for the planet. We cannot allow climate scepticism to go unchanged.

We need Labour to offer a real alternative – a tax on wealth and to make polluters pay; helping communities to expand public ownership of transport, energy, and water; a national nature service to provide careers for young people and to protect our land, coastlines, and seas. We need to see all parties committed to no new oil and gas extraction.'

Lana Reid McConnell, Greens councillor in Glasgow

The National:

Young people know that politicians failing to tackle the climate crisis are setting our house on fire. If the UK Government makes these pathetic U-turns, they’ll have blood on their hands.

These interim targets have been set for good reason – to help set us on the path to achieving net zero in the necessary time frame. The targets didn’t even go far enough, so at a time where we needed a government that could see the economic and social benefits of the transition to net zero, we have ended up with a government that has once again chosen to side with those who profit from climate breakdown.

Greens will continue to make the case that energy efficiency and renewable energy means lower bills and that lower emission vehicles means lower fatalities and health issues due to poor air quality. Retrofit, renewable energy, heat networks and more mean many green jobs. There’s no excuse for any government to be claiming otherwise.

For years, young people around the world have been raising the alarm on the injustice that the climate crisis will bring. This news is a big blow, but the fight goes on to make this current government see sense.

Editor's view - Laura Webster

The National:

As the youngest national newspaper editor in the UK, it's plain to see that the urgency of the climate crisis is not felt by my counterparts across the industry. I noted this morning that a number of newspapers north of the Border did not follow up on Sunak's U-turn at all. At least until Downing Street said there would be a speech, when they decided the Prime Minister's spineless decision might actually be worth telling their readers about. 

I spent the day reaching out to young people across Scotland to hear their responses. The mood was broadly the same - this is disastrous. Our planet's future, the very air we breathe, is too important to gamble away on some last-ditch attempt to win support from fed-up voters in England. Those members of the electorate have every right to be furious with the Tories; but their anger is misplaced with its focus on climate policy. UK Government ministers say this U-turn is to protect consumers struggling during the cost-of-living, as if net-zero policy has had anything to do with the problem-ridden economy. Try over a decade of austerity and the Tories' failure to act SOONER to address climate-related issues leaving you without enough money in your pocket. The party's hypocrisy is sickening.

Green policies, utilised effectively, can create jobs, make our environment better, improve our health. Scotland could be a world leader on the climate, in fact - and yet we're chained to a government too scared to roll out basic measures, happy to kick the can down the road if it means keeping a couple of extra seats. Scotland is sacrified at the altar of Middle England's electorate again, and young people are left to fix a mess we didn't create in the first place.