Week Two of ‘Who wants to be Prime Minister?’ – the net zero angle
So, we’re now down to five candidates to be the UK’s next Prime Minister and they’ve had two TV debates to show the wider population their wares (even though we don’t get a say). So where are they now on Net Zero and Sustainability? During last night’s debate on ITV (above), anchor Julia Eltringham cleverly framed the Net Zero Question in terms of the unprecedented heatwave hitting the UK over the next couple of days.
Of the five, only front-runner Rishi Sunak sounded even slightly enthusiastic about net zero, saying he wanted to protect his daughter’s future, with his only caveat being “we need to bring people with us.” All the others felt it necessary to caveat their commitments with “as long as it doesn’t cause economic damage” – they clearly haven’t read up on the costs of climate change versus the costs of net zero. While Penny Mordaunt and Liz Truss explicitly committed to the net zero by 2050 target with caveats, the two outsiders, Tom Tugendhat and Kemi Badenoch dodged the deadline bit. This was a bit surprising from the supposed centrist Tugendhat, less so from the libertarian Badenoch, who just last week claimed net zero was “unilateral economic disarmament” and bizarrely attacked ice cream giant Ben & Jerry’s for being too ‘woke’ (after all, what do they know with their €1bn of ice cream sales per annum?)
I find all this very depressing and, politically, rather confusing. After all, it was Conservative icon Margaret Thatcher who kicked off the whole intergovernmental climate action movement with her groundbreaking speech on climate change to the UN in 1990. David Cameron brought the Tories back into Government after 13 years in the wilderness with his “hug a husky” message, his successor Theresa May committed the country to Net Zero by 2050 and, following her, the recently defenestrated Boris Johnson became a convert to the cause when he took over. While there are plenty of holes you can poke in the records of all four Prime Ministers, they were superficially at least committed to action – so what are all these candidates scared of?
To give her her due, Penny Mordaunt has since told the Guardian “The net zero transition provides the opportunity to create millions of jobs over the next decade. Fast. Investing in the domestic renewable energy sector reduces the UK’s reliance on fossil fuels like gas, which are exposed to volatile global prices.” That’s more like it, but why the reticence in the debate?
At some point today, the five will be grilled by COP26 President (and Tory MP) Alok Sharma on their environmental policies. Let’s hope more of the five open their minds to what needs to be done – and the opportunities in doing so.