The fourth Conservative prime minister in six years will take office next week, facing a host of inflationary economic and social crises not seen since the 1970s.
energy bills Set to reach £3,500 per year The average family is expected to Two-thirds of them pushed into fuel poverty by JanuaryWhile food prices jumped at the fastest rate in more than a decade, adding nearly £500 to the average annual grocery bill. Major workers are on strike or considering stopping, and services from health to courts are on the verge of collapse. Meanwhile, sewage flows into our rivers and beaches, a grim metaphor for the state of the nation taking tangible form.
Voices on the Conservative right scrambled to exploit the overlapping crises to advocate for the eventual burial of the “green agenda” outlined with David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson, and the legally binding goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050. David Frost, who Was a candidate for a senior position in the government of Liz Truss, on yellow by 2050 Led a strong attack on net zero, blaming politics for rising energy prices, applause from right-wing commentators. Ditch the “green folly”, as their argument goes, gas prices will drop, and ministers can focus on the things that really matter instead.
Still, arguing again over net zero would be to forgo the best hope of dealing with the cost of living, old advisers warned. Far from being to blame for the energy bills crisis, net zero – which requires energy to be used more efficiently and generated from clean sources – is way out of itthey are arguing.
John Gummer, former Conservative Environment Minister and Chair of the Climate Change Committee (CCC), said: “What we have to do for net zero is what we have to do to tackle the cost of living crisis. When people say we can’t afford net zero, we honestly can’t. Not going to net zero.”
“With what’s happened about the cost of living across the board — gas, electricity, food, everything — we need to put the response to that on the basis of what’s like,” said Ben Goldsmith, a longtime green investor and conservative, and chair of the Conservative Environment Network of more than 100 MPs. The war. This means the beginning of a war for efforts around energy efficiency and renewable energy.”
Of the multiple pressing crises facing the next prime minister, at least three have strong environmental components. High energy bills require an overhaul of the UK’s failing gas-dependent power system, from leaky homes to aging nuclear reactors; The cost of living crisis is also fueled by rising food prices, highlighting agricultural policies; The sewage scandal stems from a two-decade failure to take environmentalists’ concerns seriously.
The rate of home isolation halved last year after the failed green house grant was abandoned. The scheme, which Johnson launched under the slogan “Building Greener” from the shock of Covid-19, was intended to isolate 600,000 homes but was Canceled in March 2021 Then Only achieved 15,000.
Rishi Sunak as chancellor has withdrawn the expected Green Home Grant funding and has not been restored, leaving the UK without a national home isolation scheme for average households for nearly 18 months at a time of soaring energy prices. Sunak omitted to mention segregation in the early part of his campaign, but in recent weeks he has begun promising a housing program – but without detailing how it would work. Truss has largely avoided the topic, calling instead for an end to the green fee, which she says will cut £153 off the average home energy bill, but will also do so. Reduce the funds available to rehabilitate the poorest homes and put jobs at risk.
The intensification of renewable energy would also reduce energy pricesBut both candidates opposed solar power and new onshore wind farms, the cheapest form of electricity generation. Their motive appears to be to appease the right wing of Conservative members, for whom planning laws have always been a hot issue, but survey after survey has shown the public at large Supporting the construction of new renewable energy sources.
It’s really hard to get planning permission for solar farms – At least 23 people have been banned in the past 18 monthsThis could have cut energy bills by £100m. Of the renewable technologies, only offshore wind seems attractive to candidates – as Truss recently boasted, the world’s largest offshore wind farm is under construction off the coast of Yorkshire.
Energy price hike It will not be brought down by investing in North Sea oil and gas or fracking, despite the enthusiasm of both candidates for exploration. New gas fields take years, sometimes decades, to appear in the stream, and hydraulic fracturing operations, even if they can overcome local opposition, are unlikely to produce significant amounts of gas anytime soon.
Food prices also raise the cost of living. New trade barriers as a result of Brexit have caused food prices to increase by 6% in the UK, According to the London School of EconomicsBut none of the candidates will admit it. Instead, any change in policy on food is likely to focus on trade and agricultural policy, and the risk is that the new prime minister may roll back reforms, initiated in May and continued by Johnson, to replace farm subsidies based on land area. planted with Payments for measures that conserve soil, protect nature, and nourish wildlifea new system known as Environmental Land Management Contracts (ELMS).
That wouldn’t be wise, according to Goldsmith, whose brother Zack is minister of climate change, which Johnson raised to the rank of noble. (Zack is now an ardent supporter of Les Trussbut Ben announced either candidate).
“Farmers need to trust Elms, and the government needs to stay on the right track,” he said. “We have to reward renewable agriculture, restore nature, and refute the suggestion that restoring nature and rebuilding the soil will cost us food security, when quite the opposite is true.”
In addition to the issues dominating the cost of living crisis, the new prime minister will face a series of major decisions on green policy. Ministers have several times postponed any announcement of New coal mine proposed in Cumbria, now set for November; Lord Deben was to step down from the CCC in September, but he would stay until June, leaving the appointment of his successor to the new leader; Under environmental law, New air quality standards must be set this fallin a major test of whether the government is serious about retaining environmental safeguards after Britain leaves the European Union.
Environmental activists fear that promises made during the “Ignite Regulations” campaign mean the opposite is true, and that vital protections for air, water, wildlife and other aspects of the natural environment could be lost.
Whether the new prime minister’s libertarian fervor extends to demolishing the UK’s green protection depends in large part on the ministerial appointments they make to Cabinet, and within Downing Street.
Shaun Spires, executive director of the Green Alliance Research Center, said: “The No. 10 configuration is very important. If a gear came with a reduced No. 10, or Lord Frost, that would be very difficult. It wasn’t 10 Very important in advancing nature’s agenda so far. “
Internal crises will preoccupy the new prime minister, but foreign policy concerns are pressing as well. after hosting Cop26 Climate Summit of the United Nations in Glasgow last NovemberThe UK is expected to pull all diplomatic stops to try to preserve the fragile consensus that has been forged there, amid the geopolitical turmoil that followed the invasion of Ukraine. Alok Sharma, Ministerial Minister who chaired the Glasgow Summit, In an interview with the Guardian, he threatened to resign If the new prime minister fails to commit to a strong green agenda.
Many countries will also look to the UK to take a leading role in Biodiversity negotiations, called Cop15, with the aim of halting the sharp decline in species and the natural environment. “The UK has been a pioneer in allocating international funding to restore nature in the world’s poorest countries,” says Ben Goldsmith. However, Sunak as chancellor cut foreign aid and Truss as Secretary of State put a greater commercial focus on much of the remaining money.
Within Johnson’s government, neither Sunak nor Gears has shown much green mileage. Sunak prevented green spendingWhile he was the Commerce Secretary, Truss played down the importance of environmental goals in trade deals and played little role in Cop26. “Neither has been known for their passion for nature, and neither has made their name as an environmental leader,” Goldsmith said. Nor did he make the environment a major policy item in the campaign.
Whoever wins will need to look at a larger scale, and this is where environmentalists pin their hopes. Polls consistently show voters care about green issues, from the climate to UK sewage-strewn beaches, polluted air and plastic-choked rivers. “These issues cannot be closer to home, there is a clear demand from voters who want to see these things settled and the next prime minister has to take control of them,” said Rebecca Newsom, head of political affairs at Greenpeace UK.