net zero

Net zero tsar: Tories will lose election without strong climate policies

In order to avoid electoral defeat, the Conservative party must take climate change seriously, according to the government’s own net zero tsar.

Chris Skidmore, who launched a 300-page review this week detailing what must be done in order to meet the UK’s legally binding decarbonisation target of net zero emissions by 2050, warned that a failure to adopt strong climate policies could have dire consequences – not just for the planet, but also for the Conservative party itself.

Skidmore, 41, believes that dithering and delay on climate action could lead to the destruction of the planet, cost the UK its international reputation, and be deadly for the Tory party if they are outflanked by rival parties on the issue.

Skidmore argues that the next election will be lost unless Rishi Sunak does more to address climate change. He notes that the prime minister often pays lip service to net zero emissions and speaks of how passionately green his young daughters are; however, he has also greenlit a coalmine as well as new oil and gas drilling, taxed green electricity, and is accused of seeming allergic to investment in renewables.

Skidmore said: “If the Conservative party does not get behind net zero, then they will lose votes. And I’m not a psephologist, but the amount of votes that they potentially will lose is significant. I think unless the Conservatives are serious about net zero and delivering on climate action, you have a perfect storm of potentially Conservative seats being lost either to Liberal Democrats in the blue wall or to Labour in the ‘red wall’.”

The report has been widely praised by industry bodies for its recommendations to increase solar panel usage, ban gas boilers, and introduce onshore windfarms.

However, some climate campaigners are disappointed that it does not contain more information on personal choices that can help reduce emissions, such as flying less and eating less meat.

According to Skidmore, this was a deliberate decision, as including such content could start a culture war that climate sceptics would use to their advantage to undermine the report’s overall message.

“There are detractors who claim that net zero is some mad eco-project or a religion. They try to spread culture wars, spread disinformation and go on about the costs to everyday people. I have tried to focus on the systems changes that need to happen, the land use strategy, better public transport, more renewable energy, rather than individual choice, you understand?“

When it comes to net zero policy, I have a chance to make a real difference. That’s why I’m speaking out, even though I know that the right-wing media will try to attack me. I believe in climate reparations, and I won’t let them silence me.

I’m proud to be a wonkish MP who works across political parties to make progress on green issues. Last year, I had to make a tough decision when Liz Truss planned to lift the fracking ban. Even though she’s my old friend, I couldn’t support her. And in the end, I voted against her.

He had known her well since 2010 and helped pen the libertarian pamphlet Britannia Unchained with Truss, Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel, and Dominic Raab. In the end, he decided to risk losing the whip, tweeting that he could not in good conscience support fracking. He said he was “prepared to face the consequences of my decision”.

This move has, he thinks, helped bolster his reputation as a credible person in the climate space.

Not so for his former cabinet colleague Michael Gove, who recently signed off a coalmine in Cumbria, Skidmore thinks.

He says: “The reality is, Michael Gove had a great reputation. Obviously I don’t know the individual circumstances as to why he’s taken this decision. I think it’s very regretful for him personally, because he’s thrown away that reputation that he had as a champion of the environment. But also for the UK, he’s throwing away its reputation. Coal is never going to be the answer and we lose the argument to be able to demonstrate to people what the alternative might be.”

Despite his chummy relationship with Truss, who commissioned the review, he found out this week that she has not bothered reading it.

“I saw her in the [voting] lobby last night, we had a chat,” he says. “To be honest with you, she said she’d forgotten that she even commissioned it. So I don’t think she’s taking too much interest in it.”

He looks at me hopefully and says: “She seemed sort of positive. But it’s funny really, looking back, as maybe this is the one thing that actually will exist from the Truss administration. I’m not sure anything else will survive.”

The MP has locked horns with some of his colleagues over the past year, including the trade minister, Kemi Badenoch, who once referred to net zero as an “arbitrary target” and “unilateral economic disarmament”.

When asked about his previous issue with her, he flashes a mischievous smile and flicks to a page in the review where it is clearly written “net zero is not an arbitrary target”. “Kemi’s made it into my review,” he laughs, adding that she has had a “Damascene conversion” and is now lauding the benefits of green trade in her new role.

Detractors of the net zero target often claim that it could make people “colder and poorer.”

Craig Mackinlay, MP for South Thanet, is one such detractor. He heads the Net Zero Scrutiny Group and has been consulted for the government’s review of the target.

Skidmore says that Mackinlay’s recommendation – that all new homes should be entirely net zero compliant with solar panels on roofs – is one of the recommendations in the report. The government will soon publish its response to Skidmore’s review, and Skidmore plans to lobby Sunak this weekend at his country estate, Chequers.

He may even bring up the coalmine: “I am actually invited to Chequers this weekend so I will see him there. I hope to raise the review. For me, coal is a legal issue now, it’s with the courts, it’s not going to happen, but of course if he reads the review and puts it into practice these types of decisions will not be able to happen.”

The MP is not standing for election again. He grew up in his constituency and raised his children there. But his seat is being abolished in the boundary review, and he does not want to move his young family to a new constituency. So what next?

He’s not abandoning his net zero mission – and clearly hopes to be involved in international green policy.

“I enjoy ideas. Policy. Being a politician, I sometimes find it uncomfortable like when you have to rebel and go head to head with people and personalities; it’s not really who I am. I’d like to be in a position where I can work out what are the policy frameworks we need for the future. I’m confident that we will crack climate in the same way we cracked tackling the ozone layer. I’m not one of those who believes it’s doom and gloom. I’d like to be part of the solution.”

Achieving net-zero emissions is crucial for addressing the climate crisis. The policies outlined here aim to reduce our carbon footprint and shift towards renewable energy sources.

It’s also important to note that in addition to reducing emissions, protecting natural resources is crucial for maintaining a healthy planet.

To learn more about ways to protect natural resources, check out: Get Involved: Simple Ways You Can Make A Difference In Protecting Natural Resources.