Achieving net zero by 2050 is a fundamentally conservative mission. It’s not only the right response to climate change but integral to the UK’s future economic prosperity. That’s why we Conservatives can’t afford to waver now. If we dither and delay, the consequences for our nation and our party will be profound.
Uniquely, I speak both as a member of the Conservative Environment Network (CEN) and the Net Zero Scrutiny Group (NZSG). I support the former because I passionately believe we must deliver net zero and develop the industries of the future in Britain. I joined the latter because I think MPs must carefully scrutinise any endeavour of this magnitude to ensure we get it right.
Thankfully, I am of a similar mind to the vast majority of my colleagues. It was our party that proudly enshrined the UK’s world-leading commitment to reach net zero by 2050 in law. And every Conservative MP was elected on a manifesto promising to deliver this pledge. We not only have a mandate to decarbonise our economy but a democratic duty to fulfil our promise.
That’s why I think the claim the Conservatives are divided on net zero is overblown. The truth is we are moving from setting targets to delivery and that requires MPs to carefully question plans to decarbonise our economy. It’s also a point where CEN and the NZSG align - both want to see net zero delivered fairly, ensure taxpayers get value for money and let the market lead the transformation.
Unfortunately, the huge spike in global gas prices has muddled the debate. Some have wrongly blamed net zero for the energy crunch, while others on the opposition benches have suggested we must turn off the oil and gas taps in the North Sea to achieve the target. Both have got it wrong.
The price of gas shot up due to soaring global demand after the pandemic. Vladimir Putin’s abhorrent invasion of Ukraine pushed prices up further, exposing also the national security risks of relying on imported fossil fuels. It’s simply false to blame this on clean energy.
Others fail to understand that net zero doesn’t mean zero emissions. Fossil fuels will play an important part in our transition and long after 2050. We’ll just use a lot less and capture the emissions using technology and store them underground. This is why we should continue to extract gas from the North Sea while pursuing net zero - it may not lower household bills, but it’s important for our energy security and jobs.
The answer to the gas crisis isn’t to ditch net zero but to double down. Reducing our dependence on gas by switching to clean energy will shield the UK from future fossil fuel price spikes.
Reaching net zero will require a diverse range of clean energy sources. Wind and solar, whose headline prices have fallen significantly in recent years for new projects, will play a central role. New zero-carbon nuclear will also be critical. And although no longer our main source of energy, gas with carbon capture will support a flexible, clean energy grid.
Nor must we lose sight of the huge opportunities net zero presents for levelling up constituencies such as mine. Through a green industrial revolution and new investment in the industries of the future such as nuclear energy and clean hydrogen, we can accelerate economic growth in all parts of the UK, generate export opportunities for British business and create hundreds of thousands of skilled, high-paid jobs.
Net zero is a thirty-year mission. Criticising the cost of an electric car or a small modular reactor, for example, is a red herring. Just like renewables and other technologies, these will become cheaper over time as the market matures. The transition won’t and can’t happen overnight.
We also mustn’t forget why we promised net zero by 2050. It will avoid the ever-rising costs of inaction from climate change and preserve our planet for the next generation. And decarbonising our economy will ensure that the UK remains competitive in a global economy that is 90 per cent covered by net zero targets.
It is also now crucial to our national security. We cannot continue to be dependent on gas and oil rich autocrats for our energy supplies, but must build more home-grown clean energy generation.
We promised voters net zero, and they expect us to deliver. We can’t surrender this issue to the left, whose main solutions are higher taxes and lower growth. Nor can we let other countries beat Britain to the economic reward. It’s a question of how not if we decarbonise. That’s why my colleagues and I are firmly behind net zero.
First published by The Times Red Box. Mark Jenkinson MP (Workington) is a member of the Conservative Environment Network.