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Despite the progress made on net zero by past Conservative governments, there lingers a danger that right-wing voters and politicians are abandoning their environmental commitments. According to YouGov, 70% of Tory voters want net zero policies paused, as opposed to 37% of Labour and 33% of Liberal Democrat supporters – when ‘don’t knows’ are excluded. The previous Government gave in to those pressures, and was looking to reverse the ban on fracking that was instituted in 2019, in spite of the fact that an expansion of fracking is harmful to the target of achieving net zero by 2050 and is unlikely to meaningfully reduce energy prices.

Planning guidance was also under threat to be amended to make it more difficult to build solar farms, notwithstanding solar energy’s importance as a green source of energy and at a time of limited energy supply. But this abandonment by Liz Truss of her campaign pledge to double down on the drive to net zero by 2050 in the name of anti-environmental sentiments made little sense for conservatives. Despite Liz Truss being heralded as the more right-wing candidate, it is Rishi Sunak’s 2019 Manifesto-inspired policy that has been more faithful to conservative principles, given the conservative commitment to community and the obligations we have towards it.

Commitment to one’s community forms a cornerstone of conservative thought. Community is the source of the very traditions and values that conservatives seek to conserve, and conservatives often stress the importance of one’s nation, local community, and family, and the special obligations we have towards them.

This should be reflected in a concern for our climate. After all, community obligations are inter-generational. Our nations and communities outlive us, having been there before us and remaining long after we die; while conservatives often emphasise the former, they are at risk of forgetting the latter. Our obligations towards our communities are also obligations towards future generations.

But, unless we meet our net zero targets, the welfare of future generations is at threat from climate change. This will be catastrophic for communities across the UK. Flooding from increased rainfall and rising sea levels, will, at best, demand billions invested in flood defences, and, at worst, destroy people’s livelihoods and homes; there are already around 5.2 million homes and businesses at risk of flooding in England and this number is set to double in the next 50 years. Droughts have the potential to spell the end for Britain’s struggling agriculture and will damage Britain’s food supply. Climate change is already resulting in £150 million of yearly losses due to soil and water degradation, while in the dry summer of 2018, vegetable yields in the UK decreased by up to 40% – those summers will become worse and more common. Non-native species, and diseases, will become invasive as they move from climates that have become too warm for them, and native species will be pushed out, not adapted to higher temperatures.

More poignantly, climate change can destroy some of the things that make us most attached to our nations. Vera Lynn sang that “there’ll always be an England, while there’s a country lane, wherever there’s a cottage small beside a field of grain.” England’s green and pleasant land is an intrinsic part of English identity, and the unionist Rule Britannia! speaks of Britain’s “countless beauty places.” But this summer, when my friend’s mother came to visit us in Oxfordshire, she lamented that “It looks just like California!” as lawns, parks, and fields turned yellow, vegetation died, and bodies of water dried up; green and pleasant land was nowhere to be seen. Unless the British climate is protected, there will be no British community, because what Britain means will have been destroyed. Our community obligations will have been abrogated, but the Britain we love alongside them. 

To prevent that – something every conservative should wish to prevent – delivering net zero is imperative. Only by reducing our emissions to a sustainable level can we handle the impact of climate change.

Despite this, even before the previous Government came into power, the Climate Change Committee wrote in 2022 that the Government’s Net Zero Strategy “contained warm words on many of the cross-cutting enablers of the transition, but there has been little concrete progress” and that “[t]angible progress is lagging the policy ambition”. There was a real threat of further setbacks through the reversal of the aforementioned ban on fracking and the Government obstructing the development of solar farms. Natural gas extracted by means of fracking, due to its main component, methane, has a global warming potential (the amount of heat absorbed by a greenhouse gas in the atmosphere) up to 28 times higher than CO2 on a 100-year timespan, while solar power plays a key role in the aforementioned Net Zero Strategy, which promises to fully decarbonise the UK’s power system by 2035. The danger for now has been rightly avoided by the new Government, but principled conservatives need to remain dedicated to net zero in the future.

The repercussions of failing to meet the target of net zero would be drastic. Unless we succeed in reducing the impact of climate change, rising temperatures will devastate Britain’s future generations, burdening them with floods and droughts while permanently changing the British landscape as we know it. A lack of commitment to net zero runs afoul of conservatism and consists in a failure to fulfil our community obligations towards those that come after us. To conserve Britain, we must remain committed to delivering net zero.

Bartomiej Staniszewski is a Research and Communications Assistant at Bright Blue. Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue. [Image: Margot RICHARD]