Tory leadership candidates risk leaving us behind on climate

The eight remaining candidates hope to replace Boris Johnson as prime minister

The candidates have unveiled all their absurd, chilling campaign videos, one policy package after another, reliably failing to mention the climate each time (Image: PA).

Going by this choice of leadership, “Vote blue, get green” is a misnomer

If you feel the heat this week, think Tory leadership contenders.

As temperatures of 40C could hit Britain’s shores for the first time and various candidates dripping sweat over their dwindling leadership opportunities, they seem utterly oblivious – even slightly irritated – to the climate emergency happening right here and now.

For a refresher, let’s take a tour of the candidates and some of their climate claims to date.

When she took office on Tuesday morning, Kemi Badenoch claimed that net zero was tantamount to “unilateral economic disarmament”.

Let me remind you: 136 countries, representing 91% of the global economy, have already committed to net zero by 2050.

Badenoch speaks as if we were alone in the world working towards net zero – when in fact we would be alone in the world if we didn’t.

Think it couldn’t get much worse?

Suella Braverman, who has also pledged to “suspend” the net-zero target, has managed to garner the much-appreciated support of Steve Baker – trustee of the climate-skeptical Global Warming Policy Foundation think-tank and a man who has recently made the claim has to teach children about the climate is tantamount to “child abuse”.

What’s so amazing is how the candidates have unveiled all their absurd, chilling campaign videos, one policy package after the other, reliably failing to mention the climate every time.

Rishi Sunak’s key leadership change on Tuesday unsurprisingly ignored his own pitiful climate record as chancellor and instead focused on Boris Johnson’s “good heart”.

I’m glad Jeremy Hunt finally confirmed on Sunday, after pressure from the BBC’s Sophie Raworth, that he would not give up the 2050 net zero target.

That’s right – the target that every single Tory MP signed on to in their 2019 election manifesto. But a bold vision for tackling the climate emergency? Do not make me laugh.

All we hear is either dead silence or, worse, outright denial of the challenges we face

This leadership contest should not be an inward race to the right to appease a handful of MPs and a few thousand wayward Tory members. The candidates should speak to the public.

And crucially, the solutions to the climate crisis are exactly what people across the country are searching for: a street-by-street insulation program for homes to curb rising energy bills; Investing in clean, green, indigenous renewable energy to ensure long-term energy security; and the creation of hundreds of thousands of high-skill, well-paying green jobs in the process.

This not only makes ecological sense – it makes economic sense. In a year, a typical three bedroom semi-detached house could save £310 on energy bills by installing attic and cavity wall insulation. Onshore wind and solar power is now six times cheaper than gas generation.

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And we have seen the economic consequences of inaction. David Cameron’s 2013 decision to “cut the green crap” has already cost households £8.3billion a year – so any Tories who want to abolish green taxes should be wary of this hurting energy bills of households would not fall as much as originally assumed.

We can no longer kick this can out into the street. We must make these investments now.

Fortunately, some Tories are beginning to see this.

Just ask Tory MPs Chris Skidmore and Lord Goldsmith, whose joint article in the Daily Telegraph implored their party to smell the coffee and drop their weight past net zero.

Just today, COP26 President Alok Sharma argued that abandoning our 2050 target would put his party on a “road to nowhere”. And I hope contender Penny Mordaunt doesn’t backtrack on her new claim of creating three million new green jobs.

But unfortunately there is still a lot to do; many past missteps that need to be corrected.

Rolling back through twelve Tory years, David Cameron hugging a husky fracked as much as he could before his campaign faltered; he also passed a de facto moratorium on onshore wind energy that has not been reversed to date.

And one of Theresa May’s very first acts as Prime Minister was to scrap the Department for Climate Change, followed by her government doggedly pushing through a third runway at Heathrow.

But we’ve made at least an inch of progress in recent years. In 2019, Parliament declared a climate emergency and enshrined the net zero target in law.

And Boris Johnson – for all his mistakes, which I have documented on many occasions in these columns – has at least shown some leadership on climate change by adopting tough climate targets.

Also under his watch, Alok Sharma has traveled the world encouraging other countries to step up their aspirations.

Of course, there is a gaping gap between words and deeds.

Let’s not forget that the Johnson government gave the green light to several new oil and gas fields and was just hours away from approving a climate-damaging, backward-looking coal mine in Cumbria before the decision had to be postponed last week.

A report by the climate committee just two weeks ago found “shocking gaps” in the government’s climate policy and “glacial” progress towards net zero in some areas.

But what so many of the Tory candidates are offering in this leadership election falls short of even Johnson’s minimum standard of speaking the right language.

All we hear is either a dead silence or, worse, an outright denial of the challenges we face and the solutions on offer.

Believe me – the best way to go green is to vote green.

Do you have a story you would like to share? Contact us by email at jess.austin@metro.co.uk.

Share your views in the comments below.

MORE : Final Tory leadership shortlist revealed after Sajid Javid drops out of race

MORE: Penny Mordaunt ahead of all Tory candidates in quick poll

MORE: The government may want to cover up its net-zero failures — but I won’t keep silent

https://metro.co.uk/2022/07/13/the-tory-leadership-candidates-risk-taking-us-backwards-on-climate-16994116/ Tory leadership candidates risk leaving us behind on climate

Justin Scacco

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