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Sun, 23 June 2024

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The Conservatives have led on climate action – we must not backtrack now

(Alamy)

4 min read

Protecting the environment is a top priority for voters. They want to see action to clean up our rivers and seas, restore our island's dwindling flora and fauna, and tackle climate change.

But as the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election showed, voters want environmental action to be fair and affordable. That is why we Conservatives must continue to lead on the environment with our market based, pragmatic and ambitious approach.

We cannot rest on our laurels. There are still enormous environmental challenges to overcome and voters expect action

Environmental leadership is the green thread connecting successive Conservative governments. We have scaled up renewables, so they provide 44 per cent of our electricity today compared to just seven per cent in 2010. The largest offshore wind farms in the world sit off our coasts. We have scrapped the EU's disastrous Common Agriculture Policy to introduce world leading nature friendly farm subsidies. Since 2010, the number of bathing waters rated good or excellent has increased from 76 to 93 per cent. That is a record to be proud of and champion.

We cannot rest on our laurels. There are still enormous environmental challenges to overcome and voters expect action. Concern for the environment will only increase as we see the impact of climate change and nature's decline. Since the Second World War, we have lost 97 per cent of our meadows and half of our ancient woodland. Two fifths of species in England have declined since 1970, and 15 per cent face extinction. Across Europe, we can see the extreme weather caused by a changing climate, with droughts, heatwaves and wildfires raging.

We have the environmental plans to meet these challenges but must champion them to earn voters' trust. An opinion poll showed that 57 per cent of former Conservative voters thinking of backing Labour at the next election do not think we're doing enough on the environment. In the south west, the Liberal Democrats hope to stage a revival by campaigning on water pollution while opposing our nature friendly farm subsidies that will pay farmers to tackle the problem. At the local elections, we also saw over 100 Conservative councillors lose their seats to the Green Party, while only six Reform UK councillors were elected. Fair and affordable environmental action is an electoral asset, not a liability. 

But leading on the environment is not only about tackling climate change and halting nature's decline. It is about grasping new economic opportunities, creating jobs and levelling up our country from rural constituencies like mine in North Devon to industrial heartlands like Tees Valley. Because we are one of the most gas dependent countries in Europe, when the price of gas soared by thirteen fold following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, our whole economy was rocked. The energy crisis has cost the taxpayer £80bn, led to high inflation, and slowed economic growth. Ending our reliance on fossil fuels is critical to preventing future energy crises.

Environmental action is about more than resilience. It is also about our future prosperity. Our country is already home to almost 20,000 net zero businesses supporting over 800,000 jobs with an average wage of nearly £9,000 more than the national mean. More than 90 per cent of the world's economy is covered by net zero targets. Because we were the first major economy to legislate for net zero, we had a headstart, but the United States and EU are determined to overtake us with enormous support for green industries. And this matters as international investment heads to countries leading the way and setting the pace on climate change.

Now is not the time to relinquish our environmental leadership to our economic competitors but to press forward, halt nature's decline and develop the clean industries and technologies of the future to power our nation and economic growth. The Prime Minister can do this by delivering on our ambitious plan to phase out new petrol and diesel cars by 2030, unlocking onshore wind and ensuring the UK pioneers floating offshore wind, which will create jobs in the Celtic and North seas.

Changing course now takes away confidence from the international investment we need to help drive energy security on British shores. We must not backtrack but push forward, proving to voters and investors alike that we are serious about protecting our planet, ensuring our energy security as we transition to net zero and level up our country. 

 

Selaine Saxby, Conservative MP for North Devon

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