What are the green credentials of the MPs who could replace Boris Johnson?
UPDATED: Following Boris Johnson's resignation, eight Tory MPs formally launched leadership bids for the top job at the Conservative Party, and five remain in the race. Here, edie analyses their approaches to green policy.
The curtain is coming down on arguably one of the most controversial leadership reigns of any UK Prime Minister. If Boris Johnson had put as much effort into green policy strategies and improving the integrity of Government as he did on gold-cladded renovations at Downing Street we might not be bracing for another leadership race.
But, such is the situation. The Conservative Party is now officially on the hunt for a candidate to replace the Prime Minister who lost more than 50 ministers and aides over a 48-hour period. 12 July saw the final eight candidates confirmed and the Conservative Party stating an intention to have a new leader in post by 5 September.
From former Environment Ministers to climate-sceptic MPs, more than a dozen MPs were linked to leadership bids in the first instance. Now, five remain in the race. But how do these MPs perform on environmental voting? Here, edie summaries the green credentials of the Conservative frontrunners.
In tendering his resignation as Chancellor, Rishi Sunak stated: “I am aware this may be my last ministerial job”. It’s become clear that this may not be the case, with Sunak regarded as one of the frontrunners for the leadership position due to favourable polling within his party. That said, if he fails to win, the ITV debate on 17 July provided precious little inclination that any other candidate would want Sunak in their cabinet.
Moving swiftly on to Sunak’s environmental credentials. Under Sunak, the Treasury completed its Net-Zero Review. His numerous Budget Statements have also included many a headline-grabbing inclusion on the net-zero transition, including the launch of the National Infrastructure Bank with climate as a core remit; the creation of a £1bn Net-Zero Innovation fund; the launch of sovereign green savings bonds and ‘pocket parks’ for neglected urban spaces.
At COP26, Sunak was greeted by climate protestors but went on to outline a vision of making the UK the ‘world’s first net-zero financial centre’ and to contribute to global efforts to “rewire the financial system for net-zero”. Measures taken to support this transition include the launch of a £16bn sovereign green bond package and the launch of a net-zero transition plan mandate for large, high-emitting businesses from 2023. But expert organisations have stated in 2022 that the approach taken by Sunak is not foolproof, with major issues remaining.
Under Sunak, the Treasury has also, reportedly, been the cause of much frustration for Johnson on the progress of some other green policies. It reportedly delayed the Heat and Buildings Strategy, then mismanaged the delivery of the Green Homes Grant in partnership with BEIS, for example.
Sunak has also been behind some decisions that have proven vastly unpopular across the UK’s green economy as Chancellor. Most recently, in announcing a windfall tax on fossil fuel giants, he also offered a 91% tax super deduction for these businesses’ investments in additional oil and gas extraction. Read edie’s rundown of that move here.
All in all, Sunak has made big promises on climate but has repeatedly been criticised for failing to deliver a joined-up approach. As a supporter of Johnson, Sunak would likely stick with the existing approach to climate-related target setting. While his background is in finance and tech, and he’s been criticised before for betting on high-tech options for the low-carbon transition, he has also stated a personal passion for nature restoration – particularly peatlands in Britain.
Current Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, Liz Truss, has served in numerous cabinet roles, including International Trade Secretary and Environment Secretary. She has previously stood in the 2001 and 2005 general elections.
During her time as Environment Secretary, Truss introduced the controversial cuts to subsidies to solar farms, criticising them as a “blight” on the UK’s natural landscape. Truss also claimed that solar farms hindered food production. According to DeSmog, these policies were not “backed up by any evidence from her department”.
Truss has been criticised for overseas trips, most recently for failing to distance the UK from trade deals with Gulf states accused of human rights abuses. While chief secretary to the Treasury in 2018, Truss also met with lobby groups linked to climate change denial.
More recently, Truss has faced criticism from more than 200 NGOs over proposed reforms to international development plans. Truss is reported to have ordered changes in the way the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) spends aid funding, with less focus given to health, climate change and conflict prevention. NGOs criticised the plans, claiming it “will undermine the UK’s ability to play our part globally in tackling urgent challenges”.
Truss, has, however, commonly spoken for the need to act on the climate crisis, and at the Party Hustings on 17 July, said she’d attend COP27 and the 15th biodiversity COP in a bid to showcase Britain as a leader on the world stage. Overall, it’s a mixed picture at best, and skewed towards climate denial at the worst.
“Now we need a clean start,” Tonbridge and Malling MP Tom Tugendhat tweeted shortly after Johnson completed his resignation speech. The former soldier and lately chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee hinted at a leadership bid last month and is now a formal candidate.
One Nation Conservative Tugendhat is not pro-Brexit and holds French nationality. He has, however, supported Johnson on several other key fronts, including the Government’s handling of Covid-19 and its support for Ukraine this year. Time will tell how popular he proves.
His green policy record is mixed, as is the case for his competitors. He penned an op-ed for The Times earlier this year outlining how leading the race to decarbonise can help European nations to improve their economic competitiveness. This built on an interview given to the BBC in March 2021 discussing whether nations should be defensive or collaborative on climate and biodiversity goals. ThePublicWhip estimates that fewer than 5% of the votes he has cast regarding the green economy are in favour of measures to reduce emissions.
Carbon Brief editor Simon Evans has highlighted on Twitter that, at the 2019 General Election, Tugendhat stated: “Tackling climate change is a fundamentally [Conservative Party] principle. We must conserve our planet, and its resources. We need to promote the innovation that will see us transform energy from a problem to the solution”. Tugendhat is yet to clarify his stance for 2022. He certainly is not making the environment a key differentiation point at present.
Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt, most recently the Minister of State for Trade Policy, has been in ministerial roles since 2014. A former World Bank Governor, this staunch Brexiteer has a wealth of experience regarding international trade. Conservative Home ranks her as one of the most respected runners among Party members.
Environmentally, green economy figures may be wary of Mourdaunt for her involvement in the UK’s trade deal with Australia, which proved unpopular in this space due to Australia’s more lax commitments around emissions and animal agriculture in particular. Its text makes no explicit mentions of climate or nature.
Mordaunt has voted the same way as other Tory MPs on the vast majority of environmental issues. She’s pro-tax on plane tickets and pro-high-speed rail; in favour of selling England’s state-owned forests and has generally voted against measures to reduce domestic emissions.
Former Coutts director Kemi Badenoch has served as MP for Saffron Walden since 2017. Until this month, when she resigned, she was Minister of State for Equalities and Minister of State for Local Government, Faith and Communities. She has also served as Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury under Boris Johnson.
Badenoch has made headlines for her reported backing from Michael Gove and her hard-nosed stance on cutting benefits. She also raised eyebrows across the UK’s green economy after stating, in an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, that: “Too many policies, like net-zero targets [are] set up with no thought to the effects on industries in the poorer parts of this country… The consequence is simply to displace emissions to other countries – unilateral economic disarmament. That is why we need to change and that is why I’m running to be leader.”
Instead of linking net-zero to levelling up or looking at the global net-zero picture, her initial response has been to declare she’d look to axe the UK’s 2050 net-zero target if elected. Whether this would be practically possible is questionable.
Badenoch does appear to have changed her mind since giving the interview to The Sunday Telegraph, following engagement with organisations including the Conservative Environment Network. At the Party Hustings on 17 July, she stated that she would not seek to alter the 2050 net-zero target nor interim carbon budgets. Alok Sharma, COP26 President, was the man who asked that question of Badenoch.
Looking at Badenoch’s voting record, she has been present for fewer green policy votes than many of her competitors. They Work For You deems her to have ‘consistently’ voted against measures to reduce emissions.
It bears noting that Defra Minister Lord Zac Goldsmith has publicly stated that he believes most of the likely contenders for Party leader are “people who, on the whole, couldn’t give a sh** about climate and nature”.
Lord Goldsmith added: “I have numerous texts from very well-known environmentalists who are shrieking publicly about Boris but who accept privately that his departure is likely very bad news for nature and climate”. These statements came after an earlier tweet from Goldsmith, posted ahead of Johnson’s resignation, in which he stated that the resignation would “most likely” mean the end of the UK’s “leadership on climate and nature”.
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