Conservative Party leadership: What are the final five’s records on environmental policy?

The race for No 10 is well and truly underway - but which of the candidates are green leaders

In one of her last acts as Prime Minister, Theresa May this week confirmed that Parliament will create a legally binding net-zero carbon target for 2050 in the wake of the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) advice on doing so. But the question of who will help deliver that long-term ambition – and the short-term policy moves now needed to achieve it – remains to be answered.

There are currently five policymakers running to replace May as head of the Conservative Party, after the latest round of voting, and the next seven days will see Party MPs cast a series of votes to whittle this cohort down to two.

The third of these ballots will be put to the Party’s 313 MPs today and the bottom candidate will drop out of the race.

While most of the frontrunners’ peers will be asking whether they have what it takes to solve the UK’s Brexit conundrum, in one way or another, edie takes a look at the green policy records of each of the candidates – and what their visions for the UK’s sustainable future look like. 

Environment secretary Michael Gove

Gove has been one of the most prominent figures in UK discussions about climate change and the environment, and that isn’t surprising considering his job role as environment secretary.

Recently, as a minister of state, he has praised the youth climate protests, met with Extinction Rebellion activists, and, despite some concern about the depth and detail of some climate change policy, he has overseen Parliament’s approval of a ‘Climate Emergency’ and an Environment Bill which includes a number of post-Brexit green laws and regulations.

Nonetheless, campaigners have criticised Gove’s plans as ‘weak’ since the draft plans on planning, air quality, and biodiversity didn’t offer strong targets for the Government to hit – and there was also concern about the independence of the new environmental body to monitor laws, the Office for Environmental Protection, which will not be truly independent.

Gove also has some interesting supporters and voting patterns in the past relating to climate change. He was endorsed by one of the UK’s most prominent climate change deniers, the former Chancellor Lord Lawson, for his former leadership bid in 2016. Additionally, he voted against reducing carbon emissions to 20% of 1990 levels by 2050, and against setting targets on emissions for electricity and capping carbon dioxide from new homes. Additionally, he has voted against requiring an environmental permit for fracking and against measures to base vehicle tax on carbon dioxide emissions. Gove also voted for applying the Climate Change Levy tax on electricity generated from renewable sources.

That said, he did vote for a Green Investment Bank and his tenure as Environment Secretary has seen the introduction of policy such as the 25-Year-Environment Plan and the Resources and Waste Strategy.


Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt

Of the 17 votes which Hunt has made on issues regarding the prevention of climate change to date, 11 have been against the proposed motions. These moves include votes in 2016 against strengthening legal CO2 limits for new homes; against the development of a strategy on carbon capture and storage (CCS) and against the implementation of a new decarbonisation target which, unlike the Climate Change Act, would be reviewed annually. However, he has voted in favour of establishing a national Green Investment Bank and gave his backing to the Climate Change Act at its final reading in 2008.

On transport, Hunt has repeatedly insisted that taxes on plane tickets should be increased in order to help decarbonise and dis-incentivise aviation. He has also consistently voted in favour of measures to improve the UK’s high-speed rail network. On the downside, he has always voted against measures to slow the rise in rail fares and those which would bring about a shift to a more publicly owned rail and bus system. Having initially voted against a fuel tax for road transport, Hunt made a U-turn in 2012 and called for a 3% tax increase in this space.

In the energy space, Hunt has been lobbying, since 2015, for greater restrictions on fracking to protect areas of natural beauty or high biodiversity. In 2012, he voted for a reform of the energy market in order to prioritise decarbonisation.

As for resources, Hunt played an instrumental role in the UK Government’s decision to ban plastic microbeads and has also backed its decision to ban plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds. He has welcomed the measures set out in the Resources and Waste Strategy, such as requiring businesses to pay 100% of the costs of recovering their packaging, up from 10% at present. These moves have been complemented by his support for the Plastic Free Parliament campaign.

Perhaps most recently, Hunt used his position as Foreign Secretary to launch three schemes, totalling £153m, aimed at helping farmers in Africa, Ethiopia and South Asia to boost their climate resilience.

Hunt has always backed Brexit and states on his website that “the decision to leave the European Union has created an historic opportunity to deliver a Green Brexit, where environmental standards are not only maintained but enhanced”.

Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson

Johnson, who served as Mayor of London between 2008 and 2016, is currently the favourite to replace May as Tory Party leader.

Although he has never served in a position directly related to science and the environment, he has been vocal in many discussions in this area. In a 2014 interview, he said he believed that all vehicles powered by fossil fuels would be removed from London by 2034 – a statement he backed up with the introduction of the capital’s first public bike hire scheme. More recently, he has backed calls for greater regulations on fracking and those against the expansion of Heathrow Airport, and spoken out against the US’s decision to leave the Paris Agreement.

However, his involvement in other areas of green policy has been less positive. He has generally voted against policy measures to prevent climate change including a CCS strategy and the implementation of emissions-based vehicle tax during the first year after sale. Johnson also voted for applying the Climate Change Levy tax on electricity generated from renewable sources.

Johnson’s more distant history is also riddled with environment-related faux-pas. In 2010, he wrote an article for The Telegraph to promote the work of Piers Corbyn, a prominent climate science denier. In the piece, he claimed that the sun might have just as much to do with the Earth’s changing climate as human activity – an argument he repeated in another Telegraph column published in 2013, and yet another in 2015.

International Development Secretary Rory Stewart

The last time we wrote about Stewart, it was because he had revealed plans to double the amount of foreign aid spent on climate-related projects to over the next five years. In an interview with The Times last month, Stewart said he would like the £1.1bn sum that the Department for International Development (DFID) spends on climate mitigation and adaptation projects overseas annually to rise to £2.2bn by 2024.

It was his first public interview after May announced her plans to resign; but what had led him up to that point? Stewart has had a number of political roles directly related to the environment, having previously served as Parliamentary Under-Secretary at Defa, Resource and Minister of State for Africa and now standing, for the second time, at the helm of DFID.

During his time at Defra, Stewart introduced the 5p plastic bag tax, which is credited with spurring a drop in the number of bags found in UK seas, and was also responsible for bringing forward the first draft of the 25-Year Environment Plan, including the UK’s landmark pledge to eliminate “all avoidable single-use plastics” by 2042.

On conservation, Stewart is credited with having secured at least five years’ worth of additional funding for National Parks, overseeing the extension of the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Park and supporting the Lake District’s UNESCO World Heritage Site bid. More recently, he has backed the UK Government’s voluntary review of progress against the SDGs.

That said, some of Stewart’s less green moves include voting to sell off England’s state-owned forests; voting to apply the Climate Change Levy to renewable energy and, in 2011, voting against the introduction of taxation for road fuels.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid

Javid has been involved with national politics for almost a decade and has previous experience in Treasury Secretary roles, as well as having served as Minister for Equalities, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and President of the Board of Trade.

But his environmental record is not as impressive as his legacy of policy leadership by a long run. Javid has consistently voted in favour of selling off England’s state-owned forests and has given his backing to several large-scale fracking projects, including Lincolnshire’s Preston New Road project. That said, he has, more recently, voted in favour of greater regulations around fracking, and has consistently stood against the development of a coal mine in Druridge Bay, Northumberland.

Much like the other contenders listed so far, Javid has voted against measures such as stricter carbon regulations for new homes and the development of a CCS strategy and, in 2013, he voted against the introduction of a requirement for power firms to limit the amount of CO2 generated per unit of energy produced.

On transport, Javid has backed the expansion of Britain’s high-speed rail networks time and again, and has also continually lobbied for taxes on plane tickets – but is also staunchly against the nationalisation of bus and rail services and against implementing measures to slow the price increase of rail tickets.

Perhaps Javid’s most recent public statement on climate change was in regard to Extinction Rebellion’s protests in London this spring, during which he called for police to use “the full force of the law” to bring the demonstrations to a close. Campaigners at the protest were demanding a legally binding net-zero target for 2025 and the introduction of a Green New Deal for the UK. Javid later said on Twitter that he “fully supports the right of protesters to protest on this vital issue” and claimed to share their view that “the world is facing a climate emergency”.



The following individuals took part in the leadership contest and have either not received the required votes or dropped out of the race due to a lack of support. Their views still make for interesting reading as they could sit as members of cabinet for one of the above candidates – and could even be the next climate change or energy minister.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock

Matt Hancock has previously been Energy and Climate Change Minister so has some previous knowledge of the sector.

Similarly to Gove, Hancock has some eyebrow-raising supporters with Neil Record, a backer of the climate sceptic lobby group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, donating £18,000 to him – including £4,000 when he became Energy Minister in November 2014.

He has generally voted against measures to combat climate change, for example voting against a decarbonisation target in 2016 and also against a vehicle tax based on carbon emissions.

But, interestingly, he has also promoted positive news about shifting to a low carbon economy, tweeting the news about 2017 being Britain’s greenest year to date with 13 different renewable records and proclaiming he was a ‘conservative for conservation’. He has also shown passion for solar energy in the past. As Health Secretary, he has commissioned a review of the ‘deadly poison’ of air pollution and its impact on health.

Former Chief Whip Mark Harper

Mark Harper is one of the only leadership candidates to have gone on the record since the contest began on climate change.

Speaking to Conservative Home, Harper said he endorsed the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendations – and also supported the private member’s bill to mandate this target.

He told the website: “It is clear that our climate is changing and for our economy and society to be secure in future decades, we need to continue to reduce carbon emissions across all sectors. The target is deliverable, and we must take action before that changes.”

But in the past, in a similar way to other candidates, he has generally voted against measures to prevent climate change – although he did vote for the original Climate Change Bill in 2008. He is also an anti-regulation politician and believes that net-zero carbon could be reached without it.

He was also at the centre of a controversy in 2010 when he backed a Bill to sell or lease English public forests, despite being the MP for the Forest of Dean, and he had to be removed by police from a public meeting on the matter with local constituents.

Former Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom

Just weeks after stepping down as Leader of the House over May’s handling of Brexit negotiations, Leadsom is widely classed as one of the five frontrunners in the race for her job.

As former Energy Minister, she has just over a year’s experience in a top-level, sustainability-related role. But before taking up this role at DEC, she had previously spoken vocally against renewable energy targets for the EU and the construction of large-scale wind farms in the UK. And perhaps her most memorable move while in the post was her decision in 2015 to end taxpayer-funded subsidies for onshore wind farms – a move which came a year earlier than planned, and paved the way for such facilities being locked out of the Contracts for Difference (CfD) system. 

But her time as Energy Minister was also defined by her strong stance on plastics. She launched the consultation on banning microbeads and suggested that similar moves should be launched for plastic-stemmed cotton buds. 

As with most of the candidates listed so far, Leadsom has voted in favour of higher taxes on plane tickets but against higher taxes for road fuel; in favour of stricter regulations around fracking but against a CCS strategy and tougher carbon rules for new homes. She has also been particularly vocal about preventing or removing subsidies for low-carbon and renewable power generation.

Former Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey

McVey has generally voted in line with the Government on climate change policies. She has followed the Government line on climate change policy since becoming an MP – and has vowed to stick with the net-zero carbon emissions target that has been set out this week.

She voted for a new Green Investment Bank but – like other candidates – has also voted against targets on carbon emissions to be reduced to 20% of 1990 levels by 2050.

Additionally, she has voted against greater regulation of the fracking industry and against numerous other climate change measures that have been put forward by opposition MPs.

McVey is married to Philip Davis, who is one of only five MPs who voted against the Climate Change Act in 2008 and has links to the controversial lobby group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which has been accused of climate denial.

Former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab

Raab has previously taken an anti-climate change stance and has lobbied in the past against regulations and targets related to climate change.

In a similar way to other leadership candidates, he has voted against climate change policies in the Commons, but interestingly has switched to a more green message since announcing his candidacy.

He has described it as a “major priority” – although he has stopped short of calling it a ‘climate emergency’, although that is official government policy.

At his launch he said: “Climate change is one of the major issues we face and a challenge we must rise to by taking action domestically and showing leadership on the international stage. This would be a central priority for me as prime minister.”

Sarah George & James Evison

Comments (1)

  1. Luke Douglas-Home says:

    The ‘Gove-effect’ has been 100 times that of the Leadsom (she was his predecessor). Anyone disagree?

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