Vicky Allan: Net-zero-skeptics are the new climate deniers

Liz Truss at an event in Ludlow, as part of her campaign to be leader of the Conservative Party and the next prime minister. Picture date: Wednesday August 3, 2022. PA Photo. See PA story POLITICS Tories. Photo credit should read: Jacob King / PA Wire.

It’s almost as if there is an omerta amongst parts of the UK Conservative party including leadership hopefuls Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, on the use of the term net zero. The color green has mostly been washed out from the leadership debate – perhaps unsurprisingly given, in a YouGov poll of Tory party members last month, net zero came bottom of a list of ten policy areas, “behind cutting personal taxes, increasing defence spending and strengthening Britain’s global standing ”.

This silence represents a sign that in the UK an anti net-zero sentiment is gaining traction.

Worse still, six out of 10 people who voted Tory in the 2019 election, according to a recent YouGov survey, would like to see net zero frozen. It’s a figure that suggests that Nigel Farage-style climate-policy dismissive politics is not going away, and that the cost-of-living crisis and rising fuel poverty is only likely to be further falsely weaponized as an argument against any net zero plan.

In Truss, worryingly, we have a likely UK leader – 26 points ahead in a recent poll – who relies on the backing of net zero skeptics like Steve Baker, founder of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group.

READ MORE: What could an independent Scotland mean for oil and net zero?

She may talk about having been a “teenage eco-warrior before it was fashionable”, but that reeks of greenwash given she finds her support in friends like Baker and has frequently voted against measures to fight climate change. She is advocating fracking and scrapping green levies, likes to hop around the country in a helicopter, and seems keen to clamp down on climate protestors – none of which are good signs.

Though she may have signed a pledge to deliver net zero by 2050, she has also said she would review how it’s delivered, reworking it so that it “doesn’t harm people and businesses”.

While, to the independence movement, Liz Truss may look like a gift with her “attention-seeking” statements about Nicola Sturgeon, she is hardly something to laugh about. We should all be worrying not just about so-called Trussonomics, but also about a potential UK that loosens its grip on net zero – especially given that already most net zero plans, including the strategies of the Scottish and UK Governments, are riddled with holes . In a landmark ruling last month the High Court ordered that the UK Government’s Net-Zero Strategy was “unlawful”, and ordered that policymakers flesh out the strategy with details. It seems likely that the Scottish plan, were it to be examined in this way, would also be found unlawful.

Meanwhile, net zero skepticism is to be guarded against. It’s where climate denialism, or at least the forces and spirit of it, has set up its new camp. In this territory, we have Nigel Farage, voice for a referendum on net zero, whose Vote Power, Not Poverty campaign was co-founded by Richard Tice, the multi-millionaire leader of Reform UK, who also happened to speak at an event organized by CAR26, a climate science skeptic group that first floated the idea of ​​a net zero referendum in a poll last autumn.

Then there’s the Net Zero Scrutiny Group in the Tory party, a faction with roots in the libertarian network behind the push for a “hard” Brexit, which has links to climate science denial.

Thankfully, in Scotland anti-net zero sentiment appears to be less vocalised – but it is not absent.

A survey into attitudes amongst Scots to Scotland and the UK’s existing targets, published last month, found that a third of people, and especially the over 65s, said that the current targets were too ambitious.

Still, Truss and Sunak might want to be wary about taking too much of a hands-off approach to climate, or playing down the need for net zero. The latest polling from the think tank Onward found that 51 percent of committed Conservative voters wish to keep the net zero target, against 34 percent who did not.

“The next Conservative leader,” it noted, “will struggle to rebuild an election-winning voter coalition without strong leadership on net zero. Both current Conservative voters and possible defectors to the party remain strongly in favor of the target of reaching net zero by 2050. “

Evidence that this contest has been too light on climate is also there in the setting up this week of a new pro-climate policy party, by Tory MP Ed Gemmell. The Climate Party, Gemmell said, would “British climate leadership while upholding true conservative values ​​and supporting businesses.”

Could climate, the omerta topic, prove to be the issue that tears the party apart? If skepticism is allowed to take root, it ought to.

Net Zero is the best and only global plan we have. Deserting it will be like giving up on a future which will very soon be our present.

READ MORE: Is the UK Net Zero strategy ‘Pie in the Sky’?

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