Former PM attacks Tory net zero ‘sceptics and pessimists’

Former prime minister Theresa May has launched a thinly-veiled attack on members of her own party who are challenging the costs associated with the government's 2050 net zero target.

May highlighted the “unrivalled growth” of cheap renewable energy and green industries in the UK. Photograph: WPA Pool/Getty Images May highlighted the “unrivalled growth” of cheap renewable energy and green industries in the UK. Photograph: WPA Pool/Getty Images

Speaking at an event yesterday hosted by the Conservative Environment Network (CEN), a group representing over 100 backbench Tory MPs who support action to cut emissions and restore nature, she warned that “pessimists” on the centre-right who are sceptical of reaching net zero emissions by 2050 are out of step with the views of the public.

The MP for Maidenhead highlighted the “unrivalled growth” of cheap renewable energy and green industries in the UK, as well as the private sector innovation, which she said was driving down the costs of technology like heat pumps and electric vehicles. 

She added that COP26 was a “golden opportunity to show what Global Britain could achieve on the environment”.

The remarks come weeks after it emerged that a group of Tory MPs are planning to set up a new backbench group aimed at questioning the Westminster “consensus” on the need to urgently curb greenhouse gas emissions.

The group will be led by Craig Mackinlay, MP for Thanet. ENDS understands its full makeup will be announced sometime this month. Mackinlay has been tweeting regularly with the hashtag #CostOfNetZero and has suggested the public would see spending vast sums on subsidising green schemes as “aping” some of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s pledges at the 2019 election.

READ MORE: Who are the Tory backbenchers challenging net zero and what do they want?

However, May said the environment did not divide people in the UK and that instead it was “a unifying issue”.

She said research showed that climate change was a concern for “all of us” and “not just for the political left”.

“And, crucially for today’s politicians, that includes voters in ‘red wall’ seats. There is no constituency in this country for trashing the environment,” she said.

May said the decarbonisation of the economy was “already happening all around us” and that “the technologies they said would never work are working”.

May noted that the “new frontier” is the decarbonisation transport but that “once again, the sceptics and pessimists are out in force. 

“But the shift to electric vehicles is happening and with enthusiasm. Production lines are being converted. Battery-producing gigafactories are going up — including here in Britain and piece by piece, we’re installing the charging infrastructure,” said May.

“Climate change is a challenge - but in rising to it, our continuing success will further galvanise public support to achieve our ambitious net zero targets,” she added.

While May’s comments will be seen as a rallying call for net zero, the government is coming under increasing pressure to set out in detail its strategy for achieving the target.

Last month, Lord Deben, the chair of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) warned that May’s successor Boris Johnson’s failure to set out a strategy on how the UK will reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 had left a space for climate sceptics to “attack and undermine” the government's target.

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