Liz Truss’ (net) zero-sum game – POLITICO

Press play to listen to this article

LONDON — The bashing of solar farms and the scrapping of green taxes could excite loyal Tories — but the message Liz Truss is hearing from high-level Tory strategists is that ending net zero would not be politically wise.

As Britain’s Conservative Party front-runner pledged in the current leadership campaign to ‘double’ the UK’s target of zeroing its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, his most important thoughts on actual climate policy were to express doubts about the “‘depressing’ the spread of solar energy ‘paraphernalia’ on farmland, and to commit to removing levies on energy bills supporting clean energy and home insulation.

Such an anti-green signal was applauded by the right-wing press and climate-skeptical Tory MPs, and also hit the Tory base – Truss is set to be confirmed as leader, and therefore the next UK Prime Minister, when the result the membership ballot will be announced on Monday.

But that would not be a winning strategy in government, said James Frayne, the founder of polling consultancy Public First, whose research is closely watched by senior Tories involved in policy-making.

“If you’re basically looking to maximize votes, there’s no point going in that direction,” Frayne said. Even with an ongoing pandemic, looming recession and war-induced energy shortages, climate change remains “a tier one issue for young professionals and a tier two issue for everyone else, including voters.” of the working class”.

If, as polls suggest, Truss wins her leadership battle against former Chancellor Rishi Sunak on Monday, she will face three climate-related realities that could guide her choices in the medium term: a transition to clean energy already well engaged; a cataclysmic energy crisis; and an electorate broadly supportive of action on climate change.

His first priority in government will no doubt be to provide households and businesses with much-needed bill relief. She promised to act on this front in the first week of taking office. But even as she deals with the acute price crisis, Truss will face a more fundamental question: how do we ensure the continued security of the nation’s energy supply?

Truss has indicated his desire to embrace local supplies of all energy sources – except perhaps solar, which is currently nine times cheaper than gas, the cost of which has fallen over the past decade to become , along with wind, the cheapest form of energy. His proposals include ending a UK-wide moratorium on fracking – albeit with requirements for local community buy-in – which party insiders say could be one of its opening bars in number 10.

Last week, outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson sent a jab at the front of his would-be successor, warning that fracking “wouldn’t be the panacea that some people are suggesting”.

According to information from The Times, Truss also wants to issue new rounds of licenses for oil and gas extraction in the North Sea. The prospect was immediately criticized by Greenpeace UK chief scientist Doug Parr as a “gift to the fossil fuel giants who are already making billions from this crisis”.

These new licenses will, however, be of limited help to the UK’s wider energy needs. The additional supply of new projects would take years to come to market and would be “relatively small compared to the overall level of energy demand”, said Josh Buckland, a former energy policy adviser to recent Conservative governments at 10 Downing Street, the Treasury and commercial management.

“The main driver of today’s energy challenge is obviously the availability of gas and the price of gas,” he said. “So really, the key medium-term question for the government is: how do you reduce your dependence on gas?”

According to reports, Truss wants to issue new rounds of licenses for oil and gas extraction in the North Sea | Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images

where the audience is seated

Nevertheless, a vocal campaign blaming the recent rise in energy bills on the UK’s net zero policy has been propagated by right-wing think tanks, the media and several prominent conservatives, including supporters of Truss – and former ministers – David Frost and Steve Baker. Baker did not want to be interviewed for this article.

If Truss becomes prime minister, climate advocates and the Labor opposition are watching for such faces to appear in key roles around his Cabinet table. Such nominations could signal that Truss intends to make climate policy one of the so-called “culture war” issues that featured prominently in the early stages of his leadership campaign.

For Labor this may prove to be a double-edged sword. Polls indicate public support for net zero is strong – 61% of Britons support the policy, compared to just 14% who oppose it, according to a poll organized by Onward, a centre-right Conservative think tank – and Labor strategists believe their party will always be seen as greener than the Tories. Tories like Frayne say any pushback by the Tories therefore carries a significant electoral risk.

“The number of very, very environmental people is tiny,” Frayne said. “Even people who are very worried about their money always say the same thing: ‘we have to do something for our children and our grandchildren’.”

But a hard-line political strategy that focused on the cost of green measures and made clean energy a scapegoat for the country’s economic woes would undoubtedly test public support at the finer details. climate policy. It’s a zero-sum political fight that can be summed up by two competing Twitter hashtags: #costofnetzero versus #costofnotzero.

Such a prospect worries some climate advocates and Labor officials that public support for net zero could prove superficial and that the policies needed to achieve it could easily be labeled interventionist or too costly. Labor’s research indicates that the finer political details of how to achieve net zero are arguments yet to be won in some parts of the community.

Frayne, however, insisted that green levies remain “bottom, bottom” on the list of things voters think will make them poorer during the current crisis.

Another signal encouraging some green Tories is the prospect of current Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Kwasi Kwarteng becoming chancellor.

“On energy, I’ve been told she listens very carefully to Kwasi Kwarteng,” said Sam Hall, director of the Conservative Environment Network. Kwarteng has “shown he believes in net zero,” Hall added. “And he correctly analyzed the current energy crisis as a gas crisis – and that the way out is to turn off the gas faster.”

Truss’ personal opinions remain unclear. During the current leadership campaign, she has given little indication that she was indeed “an environmentalist before it was fashionable,” as she told the Conservative Environment Network in a green manifesto that did not describe much in terms of green politics.

More importantly, as Chief Secretary to the Treasury in the final days of Theresa May’s administration, she would have opposed the 2050 net zero target and the UK’s hosting of COP26. A former cabinet colleague said: ‘She’s going to be largely indifferent to the environment [as PM]because that romantic part of the conservative movement, which is significant, does not spring up within it.

Some Green Tories are encouraged by the idea of ​​Kwasi Kwarteng becoming Chancellor | Jack Taylor/Getty Images

But if Truss ultimately decides that beating Russian President Vladimir Putin means building local industry that provides stable, affordable energy, then she may not need to be a net zero evangelist to deliver the net zero goods. That is certainly what green Tories, climate advocates and Whitehall officials are hoping for.

“I’m confident that the pressure of this winter — and probably the next two winters in terms of high energy bills and fears about energy security — will drive a lot of this transition,” Hall said.

Details, details

The pressure of skyrocketing bills is not the only climate policy hurdle the presumptive prime minister will have to navigate in his first months in office, however.

The UK still holds the UN climate presidency – handing it over to the Egyptians at the start of COP27 on November 6 – and Truss’s government will come under immediate pressure from developing countries to offer funding for the clean energy, climate protection and damage repair.

Then, two days into COP27, the Department of Leveling, Housing and Communities must make a highly symbolic decision on whether to grant permission for Britain’s first new coal mine in a generation.

And another key milestone looms in March next year, when the UK government is ordered by the High Court to submit an updated version of its strategy to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Court order, analysts say, will require submission of additional data on how the strategy actually works.

The Climate Change Committee (CCC), an independent body that advises the UK government on climate policy, has been scathing about the strategy’s multiple shortcomings. In particular, the committee said the window was rapidly closing for the UK to decide how it would retrofit millions of buildings to make them more energy efficient, replace gas heating systems in homes and reform the farming system. to reduce methane production.

If she’s serious about net zero, Buckland said, Truss will have no choice at this point but to lay out a real long-term plan.

‘If this document doesn’t include a set of new commitments’ or at least more detail on how Britain can actually become carbon neutral, he said, it will be a ‘real test of credibility’. “.

This article is part of POLITICO Pro

The one-stop solution for policy professionals fusing the depth of POLITICO journalism with the power of technology

Exclusive and never-before-seen scoops and ideas

Personalized Policy Intelligence Platform

A high-level public affairs network


Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.
Back to top button