Penny Mordaunt has told Conservative critics of net zero that “environmentalism and conservatism go hand in hand” as she vowed to create “millions of green jobs” if elected leader.
The MP for Portsmouth North is the only Tory leadership candidate so far to properly set out views on climate change and the environment.
She made the intervention after a fierce debate over climate targets in her party, with two of the remaining contenders, Kemi Badenoch and Tom Tugendhat, critical of domestic carbon reduction pledges. Alok Sharma, the Cop26 president, told the Observer he could resign if the next leader was lukewarm on the environment.
On Monday, Sharma will grill the five remaining candidates on green matters, giving each 15 minutes to speak about what they would do for the environment if elected leader.
There have been fears that a new leader will ditch the controversial replacement of the EU’s farming subsidies, with the farming lobby complaining that they do not want to be paid to conserve nature rather than produce food.
Mordaunt has committed to the eco-friendly farming plan, telling the Guardian: “I have pledged to reform EU land subsidies and instead will reward those farmers here at home who champion nature and sustainable management of the countryside.
“We have seen so many farmers already take these steps, but I want to encourage and support those who actively take steps to leave a cleaner, greener environment for the next generation. Sustainable farming for the longer term is an absolutely crucial part of how we, together, can protect our natural world.”
Some of her colleagues, including Steve Baker, the MP for Wycombe who runs the eurosceptic ERG group of Tory MPs, have said the cost of living crisis means the UK needs to increase its domestic production of gas, rather than switch to renewable energy.
Mordaunt said, however: “The net zero transition provides the opportunity to create millions of jobs over the next decade. Fast. Investing in the domestic renewable energy sector reduces the UK’s reliance on fossil fuels like gas, which are exposed to volatile global prices. Low carbon electricity already provides about 50% of the UK’s total generation on average each year.”
She added that switching to more renewable energy would “rapidly enhance the UK’s energy security”.
The former defence secretary is attempting to convince colleagues that there is a positive case to be made for net zero, because of the green jobs it would create.
She said: “At the heart of my offer to the country is a relentless drive to harness the opportunities of greener industries and a plan to create jobs in those sectors most likely to benefit.”
Reassuring those who think a conservative leader may scrap climate commitments, she said: “Environmentalism and conservatism go hand in hand, and is a core principle of who I am – someone dedicated to the future of our world and the legacy we leave.”
Most candidates are committed to the net zero target, and all except Badenoch have signed a pledge written by the Conservative Environment Network vowing to continue climate policies put in place by Boris Johnson’s government. However, Tugendhat has said he favours restrictions on imports from countries with laxer environmental standards over reaching net zero emissions domestically.
Rishi Sunak said during Friday’s TV debate that he cared deeply for the environment and that he was committed to net zero, but did not give any firm policy ideas. Liz Truss said she would rip up the EU’s habitats directive and instead do a nature survey of the endangered species in the UK, but did not give any ideas on renewables or green jobs.
July 17, 2022 at 07:12PM Helena Horton Environment reporter