As the impact of climate change becomes more apparent, and the competition for green investment intensifies, it is clear that voters will not forgive politicians who slow down. They will reward those who double down and deliver the fair, affordable and ambitious environmental action we need to see.
Thus, we must hold our nerve to reach net zero by 2050 and end the United Kingdom’s contribution to climate change. It is the challenge and economic opportunity of the century, and successive Conservative governments have developed plans and policies to answer it and grasp the benefits.
There’s no point denying it, we can already see the impact of a changing climate around us. This summer’s devastating heat waves and wildfires in Europe, Canada and the United States aren’t just “weather” — strong scientific evidence suggests they would be virtually impossible without human-driven climate change.
With the world enduring the hottest days in recorded history, watching glaciers melt and feeling scorching temperatures, there’s very little point in pretending it’s not all happening. Nor is it sensible to proclaim that global warming is a good thing to reduce winter deaths from cold weather. Insulating homes to keep people warm is the answer to that challenge — not letting the planet fry.
Britain isn’t immune from the impact of climate change either. We’ll likely see more flooding events, intense and frequent heat waves and droughts; we even saw wildfires in the U.K. last year. Coastal erosion will also continue to claim vulnerable communities, physically changing our island. And all this will damage homes and businesses, make it harder for farmers, push food prices up, and leave us in a more volatile and unpredictable world.
Voters understand this. It’s why they overwhelmingly support environmental action. It’s why, according to pollster YouGov, they see climate as the fourth biggest issue facing our country. So, if the Conservative government is seen to renege on its pledges, it’ll lose voters’ trust.
As a new opinion poll shows, 57 percent of former Conservative voters who are considering backing Labour in the next election think the government isn’t doing enough to tackle climate change. Yet, Conservative leadership on the environment has been key to the party’s electoral success. Two-thirds of Conservative voters are proud that our country is leading the way on this issue globally, and a majority think it will be good for jobs and the economy. Our green ambition is partly why we won a landslide majority in 2019, promising green jobs and industry across the country.
We have a great story to tell.
Since 1990, the U.K.’s emissions have almost halved, while our economy has grown by 75 percent. There are days where almost all our electricity is provided by clean energy sources. And though there is more to do, the U.K. is already showing that going green is doable and preferable.
Thanks to our policies, we’ve built the world’s second-largest offshore wind industry, so renewables now provide over 40 percent of our electricity, compared to 7 percent in 2010. We were also the first major economy to legislate for net zero and have cut our emissions faster than almost any other country in the G20.
I am also pleased the government has held its nerve on the 2030 phaseout of new petrol and diesel cars. Delaying this by even five years would add 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere — the equivalent of 22 million cars, or powering every home in Australia. As car firms are already warning, it would also hit investor confidence, costing jobs.
But ministers must continue to hold steady on other green policies too. Backsliding on net zero by 2050 is a vote loser and would leave our country poorer, not richer. Insulating a home can save people up to £300. Our wind industry cut our nation’s gas imports by £16 billion last winter, saving us from even more expensive energy bills. And net-zero businesses add £70 billion to our economy, supporting over 800,000 jobs with an average wage of almost £9,000 more than the national average.
Now is the time to double down, not back down.
Over 90 percent of the world’s economy is currently covered by carbon neutrality targets. Change is coming, and if we don’t lead it by developing clean industries and technologies here, we’ll end up importing them from others, with all the costs and none of the benefits. At its heart, tackling climate change is a Conservative mission to protect our planet and build a more prosperous country. We shouldn’t abandon net zero —we should lead it. We must champion a decade of Conservative successes on the environment, build on our achievements and deliver the change voters want to see.
First published by Politico. Matt Hancock MP (West Suffolk) is a member of the Conservative Environment Network.