Britain is sweating. The weather service announced the red warning level for Monday and Tuesday days ago. A little later, the health authority announced a national disaster. In the south of the country, known for its temperate climate, temperatures are likely to rise above 40 degrees and break all previous records.
Trains are running at reduced speeds, and not at all on some routes, because of concerns about the effects of heat on the tracks. Train companies and transport associations are demanding that journeys that are not absolutely necessary should be avoided. Those who can should work from home again for the next hot days.
Conservative politicians regularly point to the connection between years of rising temperatures, climate change and the need to reduce emissions. But in the ongoing competition to succeed Boris Johnson as party leader and prime minister, the topic plays at best a secondary role, despite the current reference.
So far, the focus has primarily been on fiscal policy and possible tax cuts. The secondary role played by the climate has meanwhile brought companies and associations onto the scene.
For the past three years, the UK has had a statutory goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. At the time, the island was a clear pioneer. Kemi Badenoch, one of the remaining five candidates, described this as “unilateral economic disarmament” and described the goal as arbitrary and poorly thought out. On Monday, however, in the scorching heat at a campaign rally in front of parliamentarians, she appeared ready to turn around. According to British media reports, she confirmed to her colleagues that she wanted to stick to the goals.
The other four were less negative. In principle, they confirm the emission targets, but place much less emphasis on them than in previous years. And they think aloud about straightening out the schedule. A particular focus has been on the “green tax”, a surcharge on the energy costs of most households to promote social initiatives, such as helping those in need to be warm in winter, but above all to support environmental goals such as better insulation of buildings .
Secretary of State and candidate Liz Truss has called for a moratorium on the levy, and Penny Mordaunt wants to scrap it altogether, despite pointing to the opportunities for a greener economy. Tom Tugendhat had questioned the net zero last week, only to make a U-turn shortly afterwards.
Only former finance minister Rishi Sunak is unreservedly in favor of net zero, green taxes and better building insulation. But his critics point out that he was rather stingy with green projects during his time as Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Johnson, who announced his resignation two weeks ago after considerable pressure from within his own ranks, was seen as prime minister as a staunch champion of climate protection and a rapid reduction in emissions. The politician, who also hosted the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, missed no opportunity to call for a rapid turnaround to clean, green energy.
He also did not shy away from controversial steps such as the end of the combustion engine from 2030. It is now clear that it is by no means a given that the party will continue with this strategy. Over the course of the week, Conservative MPs reduce the field of candidates to two with a series of votes. The remainder will face the approximately 200,000 members of the conservative party until the end of August. The winner is expected to be announced on September 5th.
Numerous business representatives and associations are now warning of a turnaround. “Britain’s business community recognizes the importance of building a sustainable economy. Our own polls show that over 80 percent of IoD (Editor: Employers’ Association Institute of Directors) members believe it is important to build a sustainable economy,” said Alexandra Hall-Chen, IoD’s policy officer.
Many have made significant progress in reducing emissions. In addition, the continuity of the specifications is important to the company. And she warned that backing down from current commitments and undermining global leadership on the issue would destabilize the UK economy.
“We have seen first-hand that investing in infrastructure and technology for a low-carbon future has significant economic benefits,” the Corporate Leaders Group (CLG) UK wrote in an open letter to candidates last week. Companies from Amazon to Lloyd’s Banking to Unilever are behind it. They pointed to new jobs, additional export opportunities and an adjustment in living standards through additional options for country regions that have been lagging behind economically up to now.
“Forward-thinking companies want more ambition on climate action, not less,” Eliot Whittington, chief executive officer of CLG, told The Guardian. Whoever leads the Conservative party in the future has the choice of continuing the country’s gains of the past few years or abandoning them and thereby unnecessarily falling behind on energy issues and facing unnecessary costs and risks.
There is also a high level of approval of the government’s climate policy among the general public. In a survey conducted by the conservative think tank Onward in April, 60 percent of those questioned were fully behind it, while only 10 percent were against it.
The mood is different among the members of the Conservative Party, who have the last word on the successor issue. They are older, more conservative and financially better off than the general population. In a recent survey by pollster YouGov, just four percent named climate protection as one of the three most important issues for the next government.
When the net-zero target became law in 2019 under Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May, the party’s MPs were still fully behind it. But in recent months, a number have opposed the plans, mainly with reference to the costs.
So far, however, numerous influential Conservatives have opposed it, including Zac Goldsmith, Secretary of State at the State Department, and Chris Skidmore, who fear that the Conservatives would lose the next election with a weakened strategy. Agriculture and Environment Minister George Eustice pointed out that many of the rules on the way to net zero have long been in place and could not be repealed without significant legal difficulties.