Tory leadership hopefuls accused of not taking climate crisis seriously

“We need a prime minister willing to put climate action at the top of the agenda but, so far, despite the searing heat, we’ve barely even had warm words from the candidates,” says Greenpeace UK.

No Planet B

As experts link this week’s extreme heat to climate change, those in the race to the top job at No 10 have been slammed for ‘turning their back’ on climate change.

The criticism comes as temperatures reach 40 degree Celsius in parts of the UK and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) says the chances of seeing such extreme heat in the UK could be up to 10 times more likely in the current climate than under a “natural climate unaffected by human influence.”

Candidates fail to turn up to ‘game changing’ climate emergency briefing

Eyebrows were raised when the Tory leadership candidates failed to attend a vital climate change briefing last week.

What was described as a ‘game changing’ emergency briefing on climate change, was led by Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific advisor. The briefing was presented to MPs following a 37-day hunger strike outside parliament by activist Angus Rose, who demanded a public address to MPs on the climate crisis.

As the i newspaper reports, fewer than 70 MPs attended the emergency briefing on climate change and not a single candidate for the Conservative leadership showed up.  

Rose said he was disappointed that no leadership hopefuls attended.

Greenpeace has accused the candidates of ‘burying their head in the sand’ over the current record-breaking temperatures sweeping across the country.

Greenpeace UK’s head of politics, Rebecca Newsom, said:  

“As the mercury reaches record highs today, those vying to be the next Prime Minister should be setting out their plans for tackling the climate crisis – and the increasing number of deadly heatwaves and floods that come with it. Instead, candidates appear more inclined to bury their heads in the sand, in a desperate attempt to ignore the blisteringly hot, record-breaking elephant in the room.

“Political inaction has driven this crisis under the Conservative government’s watch. The next prime minister has an opportunity to tackle it and cut soaring household bills by transitioning the UK away from fossil fuels, boosting cheap renewables and greening our homes. And a proper plan to increase our resilience to extreme weather events would avoid haemorrhaging votes at the next election.

“We need a prime minister willing to put climate action at the top of the agenda but, so far, despite the searing heat, we’ve barely even had warm words from the candidates,” Newsom continued.  

Green Alliance shares similar concerns. Talking to LFF, Robbie MacPherson, political adviser at Green Alliance, said:

“We’re in a situation where people are struggling with extreme heat this July while worrying whether they’ll be able to afford to pay their energy bills to stay warm this winter. Being prime minister is a serious responsibility and the remaining Tory leadership candidates must do more than express support for net zero, they must ensure it is at the heart of their government.”

“What is their plan for expanding green energy and insulating people’s homes to keep down bills? How are they going to speed up the switch to electric vehicles and encourage public transport use? These are the kind of questions, we need answers to.”

Badenoch labels 2050 target ‘arbitrary’

Kemi Badenoch has referred to net zero policies as ‘unilateral economic disarmament’ and the 2050 target as ‘arbitrary.’ The MP for Saffron Walden told The Times that people didn’t want to answer difficult questions related to how we should generate our electricity and instead “glue themselves to railings and demand the government do something extreme.”

Meanwhile Rishi Sunak has been criticised for largely avoiding talking about net zero. During his time as chancellor, experts accused Sunak of blocking green policies essential to putting the UK on track to net zero emissions, imperilling the UK’s own targets and the success of vital UN climate talks.

Rather than mentioning the climate in his 2021 Budget, the former chancellor halved air passenger duty, extended the freeze on fuel duty, and failed to announce funding for improved home insulation.

Liz Truss has generally voted against measures to fight climate change. In March 2022, the foreign secretary was criticised for saying she wanted aid spending to be prioritised for women and girls rather than climate change.

As trade secretary, Truss was accused on dropping Paris climate change agreements from the UK-Australian trade deal – something she referred to as “fake news.”

Despite pledging support for net zero, Penny Mordaunt has generally voted against measures to tackle climate change.

The MP for Portsmouth North voted not to reduce the permitted CO2 emission rate of new homes and against requiring a carbon capture strategy for the energy industry.

She also voted against setting a decarbonisation target for the UK within six months. Mordaunt has also been criticised for taking a £10,000 donation from a climate change denial group.

Net zero commitments at the bottom of Tory party members priorities

Concerns about the candidates lack of urgency over the climate emergency come as a poll reveals net zero commitments are at the bottom of Tory party members priorities.

A recent survey by YouGov shows that just 4% of those surveyed believe hitting the UK’s net zero emissions target by 2050 was one of their top three priorities for the next prime minister.  

With the Tory candidates expressing scepticism over climate change, fears have been voiced for the UK’s net zero goal under the new Tory leader.

Lord Adair Turner, a former chair of the committee on climate change and of the CBI employers’ organisation, who now chairs the Energy Transitions Commission, expressed such concern, saying: “It would be a catastrophic loss of international credibility, gained at Cop26 [climate summit] in Glasgow, to move away from our commitment to net zero. If the UK were to pull back on net zero, it would be a shock to our global reputation for consistent policy and for our responsibility in the world.”

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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