At the Conservative party’s annual conference, talk on the green energy transition has been all the rage. The agenda is packed with over 20 fringe events discussing plans for reaching ‘net zero’. As a result, the conference has put the party’s division over the target under the spotlight.
Net zero roll-backs
As the Canary previously reported, the government has shelved a number of its net zero targets. The Tories slid back on their plans to phase out petrol and diesel cars in 2030. On top of this, they also watered down targets on gas boilers and home energy efficiency for private landlords.
However, the net zero row-back has drawn intense criticism – not least from greener-leaning figures from within the Conservative party itself. At the time of the announcement, Zac Goldsmith – who resigned from his post as environment minister in June over government inaction – told the Guardian that the prime minister’s move was a “moment of shame”.
Green energy champions at the Conservative party conference?
This environmental rift within the Tories has only continued to grow at their party conference. At a fringe event organised by the Conservative Environment Network, Theresa May championed the net zero targets adopted under her stint as prime minister.
Net Zero isn’t a cost to be minimised – it’s the growth opportunity of the century, worth £1 trillion to British business by the end of the decade.
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— Theresa May (@theresa_may) October 3, 2023
As the BBC reported, May argued that the UK has the opportunity to lead “the green revolution” and stated that net zero should not be viewed as an “act of economic harm”. Evidently, May hopes to flaunt her supposed green credentials – and we’re not meant to think of this as a desperate ploy for political rehabilitation.
Conservative MP for Waveney Peter Aldous also appeared to come out on the side of net zero:
🗣️ @peter_aldous: “The PM’s announcement was 2 weeks ago, if that’s it [on the net zero transition], that’s not enough. We need to be articulating that vision and laying down an ambitious roadmap.”#CPC23 #CENatCPC pic.twitter.com/JI0gnqWPec
— Conservative Environment Network (@CEN_HQ) October 3, 2023
Meanwhile, former secretary of state for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Chris Skidmore promoted the energy transition in the context of green jobs:
“A just transition will mean that existing jobs can move to a net zero future, not just new jobs.”
— Net Zero APPG (@NetZeroAPPG) October 3, 2023
In addition, Alex Stafford spoke on net zero in a positive light at another event:
'Net Zero is a great opportunity, we can aspire the next generation to solve climate chance, we have the intelligence to find the answers' says @Alex_Stafford MP, Member of the Energy Security and Net Zero Select Committee at the @coopuk fringe at #CPC23 pic.twitter.com/BUNk7n1Jzi
— Total Politics (@TotalPolitics) October 3, 2023
An unholy anti-net zero alliance
By contrast, the conference has thrown up a smorgasbord of anti-net zero talking heads. Right-wing mouthpiece the Spectator hosted a panel discussion asking ‘Will the public ever get on board with net zero?’
Of course, prolific climate change denier Jacob Rees-Mogg spoke at the event:
— Lewis Feilder (@LewisFeilder) October 3, 2023
Of course, this talk of the outrageous cost of climate measures is a common Conservative talking point. Right-wing thinktank Civitas recently released a report calculating the cost of net zero to be many trillions of pounds. However, the group withdrew the study on 2 October after people pointed out some glaring factual errors – like estimating the cost of wind power 10,000 higher than it actually is. Why let mathematical accuracy get in the way of a good old climate delay drivel?
Meanwhile, one MP was worried that the UK might accidentally do too much to tackle the climate crisis (spoiler: it won’t):
Kevin Hollinrake MP addresses the panel 'Is government helping or hurting net zero?'
Says they are helping but it's 'pointless being well ahead of the pack' as UK accounts for 'only 1% of global emissions'
— Phoebe Cooke (@CookePhoebe) October 3, 2023
Hollinrake clearly hasn’t quite got the memo that the UK is no longer a ‘climate leader’. In reality of course, it never was. The UK has ploughed ahead with fossil fuel projects at home, and outsources its consumption-based emissions to poorer countries. None of that is even to mention that it hasn’t come close to addressing its historic responsibility for the climate crisis.
Sucking up to the fossil fuel industry
Regardless of where politicians came out on net zero however, the conference events showed the Conservatives are firmly in the pocket of big polluters.
Guardian environment journalist Helena Horton highlighted the gas industry sponsorship at the Spectator’s event:
— Helena Horton (@horton_official) October 3, 2023
Another event was titled: ‘Can fossil fuel companies play a role in the energy transition?’. It was hosted in collaboration with (checking my notes here) oil and gas major Chevron.
If you didn’t fancy sipping gin and tonic while musing the merits of net zero with Rees-Mogg and company, plenty of alternative climate deniers and polluters were also available:
Good to join my colleague @PamGosalMSP to discuss net zero, energy security and Global Britain with representatives from @bp_plc at #CPC23 today. Oil and Gas is a vital part of Scotland's energy security and supports jobs across the country. pic.twitter.com/WVykZsPqbi
— Craig Hoy MSP (@CraigWHoy1) October 3, 2023
Yes, the same BP that scaled back its climate targets in February amidst booming profits.
Unsurprisingly then, some Conservatives had clearly been lapping up oil and gas majors’ bullshit regarding the industry’s climate action:
It is wrong to demonise #oilandgas companies, particularly those who operate in 🇬🇧.
Every one operating in the #NorthSea is committed to #NetZero targets as set out in #NorthSeaTransitionDeal#CPC23 https://t.co/byMtdosu3R
— David Duguid MP (@david_duguid) October 2, 2023
Ultimately, the conference attendees were just splitting hairs over the best way to bolster the profits of their private sector benefactors. They can dress up their green credentials with warm words on the energy transition, but when their party is greenlighting gargantuan fossil fuel projects and inviting polluters to lead the discussion, it’s all just patently hot air. Net zero or no, climate-wrecking industries will always be the biggest winners in Tory Britain.
Feature image via Sky News/Youtube screengrab.
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