Whilst delivering on the result of the referendum and securing Brexit is going to be a top priority for whoever becomes the next prime minister, tackling the global climate emergency must be a core goal of our next government, and one where we demonstrate true leadership.
That is why one of my first acts as prime minister will be to declare a climate emergency and commit to phasing out greenhouse gas emissions in the shortest time possible and fully by 2050.
As the independent Committee on Climate Change has said, we can accomplish this with known technologies, and ambitious policies, the foundations of which are already in place.
Some of my proudest achievements in government have been the steps we have taken to tackle climate change. First as energy minister and then as environment secretary, these included overseeing a vast expansion in offshore wind and solar energy, and a commitment to close all coal-fired power stations by 2025 – something we are well on our way to achieving. We’ve just gone the longest period since the Industrial Revolution without burning any coal to produce electricity.
Our renewable energy capacity has quadrupled since 2010; we have the biggest installed offshore wind capacity in the world; our five-yearly carbon budgets are creating the stepping stones for a lower carbon Britain; and the recent Automated and Electric Vehicles Act sets out the framework for a massive expansion of cleaner cars with zero emissions.
But we do need to do much more. There is no doubt that we are facing a climate emergency.
The sight of so many young people taking to the streets, demanding greater and faster action, tells us this is an issue which matters to so many and that we must act now. We must go even further than our ambition to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it – a commitment I was proud to make when I was the environment secretary.
I want the UK to be a global leader in the fight against climate change, and I have four specific ways I will achieve as prime minister:
- A new Cabinet sub-committee will be specifically tasked with identifying actions needed to ensure we are a carbon-neutral country within the next 30 years, showing the rest of the world our determination to limit the rise in temperatures to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels without detriment to our economy or our competitive global advantage. The sub-committee would work closely with the Committee on Climate Change to report recommendations within one year.
- Clean growth is one of the key industrial sectors of tomorrow, and this is an area where we are already maximising the UK’s natural advantages via our Industrial Strategy. There is huge potential for even more new jobs and new skills, particularly after we have left the EU, and I would incentivise investment and innovation to allow more businesses to flourish in this exciting sector.
- Whilst focusing on becoming carbon neutral by 2050 here at home, I would want the UK to assist the developing world in decarbonising using part of our overseas development budget, helping them to protect their environment and biodiversity whilst continuing to support their growing economies.
- I would also press for the UK to host the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 26), following our bid last December. This is the biggest such meeting since the historic Paris Agreement in 2015, and this would give us the opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to protecting the world whilst encouraging others to do the same.
We must be bold in our goals on tackling climate change as we look to build free trade agreements with our friends, new and old, around the world. The recent Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) has shown that action on climate change can be at the heart of new trading relationships – from zero tariffs on low-carbon products and specialised services as well as new provisions like corporate social responsibility on environmental issues of common concern – and I would seek to replicate this success in our future bilateral agreements with other countries. New energy and technology could become as great a UK strength as our financial services industry in stature and size.
Zero emissions by 2050 is the absolute aim but we will be more ambitious as faster progress is made and technologies advance. I am proud of the record of successive governments in tackling this issue, but there is more we can do. I would provide the decisive leadership that is needed to properly tackle the climate emergency we now face.
Andrea Leadsom is the Conservative MP for South Northamptonshire and a candidate to be the next Conservative Party leader