Getting to grips with . . .

What Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak are saying about climate change

The Tory leadership candidates have been accused of failing to address environmental crisis

While Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak have clashed repeatedly over their visions for the British economy, both Tory leadership hopefuls have been far more reticent about their plans for tackling climate change.

The rivals to replace Boris Johnson as party leader and prime minister faced just one question on the environment during their first two head-to-head TV debates, with the issue claiming less than two minutes of airtime.

Both candidates have committed to a net-zero target since hitting the campaign trail, but environmental policies are “plummeting down the priority agenda” in favour of economic issues, said sustainable business media outlet edie.

What has Sunak said?

Former chancellor Sunak has previously taken what Politico described as a “cautious approach” to green policies. 

But after entering the leadership race, he has outlined plans to make the UK “energy independent” by “investing in vital new technologies”.

Sunak told The Telegraph that “wind energy will be an important part of our strategy”, but that “as prime minister, I would scrap plans to relax the ban on onshore wind in England, instead focusing on building more turbines offshore”.

He also pledged to re-establish the Department of Energy, which was subsumed into the Department of Business in 2016, and to create a new Energy Security Committee.

“I am committed to Net Zero by 2050, but that can’t mean neglecting our energy security,” he argued, adding that his priority would be to beat the 2045 target for energy sovereignty to ensure “​​we’re no longer reliant on the volatility of the global energy supply”.

Addressing a party hustings earlier this month, Sunak also committed to “look to introduce new energy efficiency schemes for housing, largely focused on smart controls, low-carbon heating and insulation as cost-effective ways to respond to the energy crisis”, according to edie.

But both he and his leadership rival have been criticised for failing to pad out their environmental plans during their leadership debates this week, on BBC One and Talk TV.

When asked during the BBC debate what people could do at home to prevent climate change, Sunak replied that he takes “advice from my two young daughters, who are the experts of this in my household”.

“And what they say to me is reducing energy usage and the benefit of that is that it saves us money as well, so government should do more on that,” he continued. “The second one is recycling, and that is something we are obsessive about in my house. I know it’s a pain and you need lots of bins, but it is very good for the environment.

“And I think the third thing is that we have to focus on innovation. If we are to solve this problem, our researchers, inventors and companies need to create the solutions to the problems of the 21st century.”

What has Truss said?

Like her Tory leadership rival, Foreign Secretary Truss has committed to reaching net zero by 2050. However, her main focus has been on the cost-of-living and tax cuts – and she has suggested that one of her first acts as PM would be to temporary scrap the green levy, which helps fund a range of environmental policies.

Truss told The Spectator that she would put in place a “temporary moratorium on the green energy levy to enable businesses and industry to thrive while looking at the best way of delivering net zero”.

According to The Telegraph, she also outlined plans earlier this year for a “radical” review of the government’s international development strategy that would prioritise aid spending on women and girls and put climate change “on the back burner”.

A source “close to the foreign secretary, who is also the government’s minister for women and equalities, confirmed that she intended to prioritise development spending on women and girls but denied that climate change and global health would be defunded”, the paper reported.

Quizzed about her environmental priorities during the BBC debate, Truss said she had been “a teenage eco-warrior before it was fashionable”.

She continued: “I am naturally a thrifty person. I like saving money and it also helps the environment. It’s about using less, wasting less, particularly food waste which I think is a massive problem in this country, but also the innovation that we need to get the new technology we need to do things better.

“Whether that’s electric vehicles or insulation in the home, but what I don’t want to see is ordinary households penalised by our net zero targets. So I would lift the green energy levy and cut money from people’s fuel bills while looking for better ways to deliver out net zero targets.”

What has the reaction been?

Campaigners and commentators have criticised Sunak and Truss for failing to offer more detailed environmental policies. 

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said that discussion of climate change had been “conspicuous by its absence” during the leadership contest, and that this lack of debate was “truly damning”. What “little we have heard has been disastrous”, she added, and scrapping green levies would be “foolish”.

The New Statesman’s Luke Tryl agreed that both Truss and Sunak appear “unwilling to embrace the most popular elements of Johnson’s agenda” including “tackling climate change”.

Greenpeace UK’s head of politics, Rebecca Newsom, told The Independent that while both candidates had “made warm noises about the importance of reducing energy waste, such as home insulation, the lack of tangible commitments to deliver on this meant we can’t be sure they will actually take it seriously”. 

Given their poor track records on green issues, the two rivals have “a lot of reassuring to do”, Newsom added.

The issues being discussed – or not – during the leadership race have attracted international comment too. US climate envoy John Kerry told BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend that whoever replaces Johnson as PM needed to help meet the global net-zero target date of 2050.

“I will say very pointedly and adamantly – we are behind,” Kerry said. “We do not have the luxury of jiggering with the 2050 right now.”

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