Pragmatic net-zero plans and fake meat for astronauts: Who said what at the Conservative Party Conference?

During this week's Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, Rishi Sunak touted his 'pragmatic approach' towards achieving net-zero, while Net-Zero Minister Claire Coutinho expressed support for a 'public-first' transition. Here, edie provides an overview of the discussions and announcements made at the conference.

Pragmatic net-zero plans and fake meat for astronauts: Who said what at the Conservative Party Conference?

Image: Conservative Party flickr ©Licensed to Dominic Lipinski CCHQ / Parsons Media

Last month, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that his Government will weaken policy proposals relating to electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing, home heating and building energy efficiency. He justified these modifications by emphasising the need to alleviate financial pressures on households and small businesses during the current period.

Unsurprisingly, net-zero was a key theme of the Tory Party Conference alongside the official scrapping of HS2 and a crusade against “woke” sciences. Here, edie rounds up the key climate talking points of the Conference

Rishi Sunak on ‘delivering’ net-zero 

Before Sunak delivered his speech, environmentalist and broadcaster Chris Packham announced his intention to mount a legal challenge over Government’s recent policy rollbacks for the built environment and transport, labelling the decision “reckless and irresponsible”.

Sunak remains steadfast in his belief that the policies he’s introduced will deliver net-zero emissions by 2050.

In his address, Sunak said: “Conference, you can already see my approach in the course I charted on net-zero. As you could tell by the reaction to my decision to chart a new course to net-zero, it was not the easiest argument to have.

“But when I looked at the reality of what people were being asked to do the thousands of pounds people would need to pay all of that disproportionately falling on the poorest in society by the way and all of it not actually necessary in those time frames to meet our net-zero targets and in spite of us doing more than any other country—I concluded it simply was not right.”

While the Government justified its U-turn on climate policies using the issue of cost-of-living crisis, IPPR issued a warning that the UK is failing to seize the economic advantages presented by the global net-zero transition, primarily due to the lack of a green industrial strategy.

Sunak added: “I decided to take a pragmatic, proportionate and realistic approach to reaching net-zero. And I won’t take any lectures from other countries that have done far less than us or from those for whom spending thousands of pounds means nothing.”

The IPPR report underscores the importance of continuing to progress along the path towards achieving a net-zero transition. This entails adapting to evolving global trends in transitioning, such as aligning with initiatives from other nations such as the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the EU’s Green Deal, in order to harness the economic advantages of this transition.

Another report from the Aldersgate group revealed that neglecting to strengthen the industrial sector and respond to global competition, such as the IRA, can put the UK at risk of losing £224bn by 2050.

Despite the cautions, Sunak maintained his confidence in his push backs on the net-zero policies, assuring the Conference that the UK will indeed reach the net-zero target by 2050.

“Change is difficult, particularly for those who disagree. But remember this: we will still meet our international obligations. We will still meet our domestic targets and we will still get to net-zero by 2050,” Sunak concluded.

Claire Coutinho on ‘public-first way’ to net-zero

While several MPs called on Sunak to “avoid falling into the trap of presenting net-zero as an all-or-nothing, binary choice” following his policy announcements last week, new Net-Zero Secretary Claire Coutinho welcomed the Government’s scaled-back targets and timeframes for key climate policies.

Coutinho said: “If we are to succeed, net-zero can’t be something that is done to people, by a privileged elite. We cannot force people to make the wrong decisions for their families.

Her speech also took aim at Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion, claiming that net-zero “had become a religion” for them and that they failed to understand why the Conservatives were calling on other nations to do more on climate action while the UK scales back its approach.

“Even our Climate Change watchdog says that when we reach net-zero in 2050, we’ll still need oil and gas as part of our energy consumption,” Coutinho added.

Last month, the Government approved of the controversial Rosebank oil and gas project in the North Sea, and while the Climate Change Committee (CCC) report notes the need for a certain amount of oil and gas until the UK achieves net-zero, it emphasises that the UK ‘will not need to develop new North Sea oil and gas fields without stronger climate stress checks.’

Therese Coffey: “Fake meat may be okay for astronauts”

In addition to celebrating the pushed-back net-zero policies, the Conference witnessed the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Therese Coffey oppose sustainable, plant-based meat alternatives.

Coffey said: “Our farmers produce the best food to the world, to the highest animal welfare standards. But there are some green zealots who think our farmers should stop rearing livestock and instead we should eat fake meat.

“Conference, regardless of what the zealots say – and I am being taken to court in relation to this right now – I am absolutely not going to tell anyone that they should not eat meat.”

According to an independent review of the National Food Strategy, commissioned by the government in 2019, a 30% reduction in meat is required by 2032 to achieve the Fifth Carbon Budget and the UK Government’s 30 by 30 nature commitment to protect at least 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030.

Additionally, as per a report published by the CCC in 2020, a minimum of 20% reduction in meat and dairy consumption by 2030, and a minimum of 35% reduction in meat by 2050, is required to achieve net-zero by 2050.

Nonetheless, Coffey continued: “Fake meat may be ok for astronauts but when people think of a meat feast, I want them to be thinking about our great Welsh lamb, our Aberdeen Angus beef, our Saddleback pork. Not some pizza topping.”

Green groups reaction

The speeches from national leaders at the Conservative Party Conference received significant criticism from green groups.

Commenting on the Prime Minister’s conference speech, WWF’s chief executive Tanya Steele said:

“If the Prime Minister is serious about providing a brighter future for our children, he must stop backtracking on our commitments to solve the nature and climate crisis. If he wants to deliver growth, green is the only way to do it.

“Just because you’re leading a race doesn’t mean you should slow down. Instead of putting the brakes on net-zero, the Prime Minister should show bold leadership and accelerate action to secure a green economy that’s fit for the future and provides a safe climate for future generations.”

Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU)’s energy analyst Jess Ralston said:

“If the Prime Minister is serious about lowering bills – especially those for the poorest households – then making homes warmer, more efficient and less leaky would be a good place to start.

“Instead, he scrapped net-zero minimum standards for landlords a few weeks ago, leaving renters colder and poorer. The Government’s insulation schemes are flatlining with seemingly no urgency in Whitehall to fix them.

“Will we see new policy to fix this or will the least well-off be stuck with high energy bills? With gas bills set to stay high this winter, those leaving in cold homes will likely be wondering.”

Friends of the Earth’s climate lead Jamie Peters said:

“The Energy Secretary’s speech has only reinforced her government’s abysmal record on climate, by parroting much of the Prime Minister’s recent and incredibly divisive rhetoric.

“With the government’s recent backtracking on climate, the UK is increasingly unlikely to meet its legally-binding national targets and international goals.

“By choosing to extract every last drop of oil and gas from the North Sea through hundreds of new licenses, the government has shown where its loyalties lie – with the oil and gas industry that’s fuelling the climate and energy crises.”

Comments (2)

  1. Jon Arteta says:

    This comment has been removed by the commenter.

  2. Jon Arteta Ibinarriaga says:

    “I decided to take a pragmatic, proportionate and realistic approach to reaching net-zero. And I won’t take any lectures from other countries that have done far less than us or from those for whom spending thousands of pounds means nothing.”

    The sheer ego and vanity behind this statement is incredible. For a start, because the people who demand ambition and drive from him are his own people and the industry as a whole. And to continue, because this absurd excuse can be used in any historical context as a synonym for malpractice. For example:

    – Human rights are violated: I will not accept lessons from other countries that have done much less than we have done. ….
    – You diminish people’s quality of life: I will not take lessons from other countries that have done much less than us….
    – You make a bad trade deal: I won’t take lessons from other countries that have done much less than us….
    – You bring me a horrible cup of tea, which is also cold: I will not take lessons from other countries that have done much less than us….

    Honestly, the most absurd excuse to use in the face of actions that are absolutely erroneous and far removed from the needs of the country. Very typical of politicians who instead of taking courageous approaches, blame each other with “You did that” or “You did that”.
    But that said, how will Rishi Sunak justify doing “much less” than his predecessors in government? Will he be able to accept criticism from the opposition and his party, or will he bow his head?

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie