At a Leadership Hustings event, the candidate told MPs that I understand she is committed to the UK’s climate goals
Having previously described the 2050 target as “arbitrary” and “unilateral economic disarmament,” she told a leadership event hosted by the Conservative Environment Network (CEN) that she was behind it, I understands.
Kemi Badenoch was the latest leading candidate to reaffirm to Tory MPs her commitment to Britain’s climate targets as she said she would not reverse her pledges to reach net zero by 2050.
Ms Badenoch’s move means that all five remaining Conservative Party leaders have backed the 2050 target – despite hints early in the campaign that it would be a race to the bottom on climate policy.
And some MPs suspected it was no coincidence that the softening of her stance came in the midst of an unprecedented heatwave in Britain.
Some 45 Tory MPs met in muggy Westminster in an air-conditioned room in the Committee Corridor to hear how serious their rivals for the leadership were about setting climate policy.
Tory leader of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Environment Chris Skidmore said he felt the soaring temperatures as well as the dramatic intervention of Cop26 President Alok Sharma, who threatened to resign if the next prime minister does not commit to a strong climate agenda dignity played a role in the candidates gathered around the pledge.
“I also think there have been a number of behind-the-scenes briefings that may have helped lead the candidates to the realization … I think there was a lot of pushing,” he told reporters outside of the hustings.
“I think once you’ve listened to Rishi supporting it, then suddenly everyone is…there’s a tipping point, isn’t there?”
A source close to Ms Badenoch insisted her commitments at the event did not represent a “change of attitude” and said her words during Sunday night’s ITV leadership debate reflected her existing position.
But during the televised debate all the candidates were asked directly if they were committed to the net zero target and Ms Badenoch declined to say so.
She said she believes in climate change but has stopped committing to the goal. She said: “The truth is that we’ve set ourselves a goal when none of us are here to be responsible for it.”
Speaking to the Hustings event on Monday, however, she said she had no intention of changing existing legislation that binds the UK to the 2050 target and wanted to focus on how to meet those targets .
She said she wants to find better ways to meet the goals, citing the Green Homes Grant as an example of funding that has been provided — without supporting plans to train installers and develop a supply chain.
All candidates also committed to various interim climate targets and pledged to do more to address biodiversity loss and water pollution.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the case for prioritizing energy security had been strengthened by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and pledged to lead a UK delegation to the Montreal COP.
According to an MP who was present, she concluded by saying that her top priority was to ensure Mr Sharma did not resign.
Rishi Sunak said he was considering launching a new energy efficiency program that would counter pressure on the cost of living to focus on smart heating controls and insulation.
Penny Mordaunt promised to promote new renewable energy technologies – namely tidal and geothermal energy.
Tom Tugendhat said climate action is fundamental to conservatism and regretted his vote against amending the Environment Bill to eliminate sewage discharges into rivers.
The hustings came after a YouGov poll published in The timessuggested that net zero should be at the bottom of Tory members’ list of priorities.
Sources in the party suggested that this does not mean that climate is not an important issue for members, arguing that the framing of the question around the 2050 target has inevitably reduced the urgency of the issue.
Sam Hall, Director of CEN, said he was “delighted to hear that all five contenders for the leadership are pledging to meet the UK’s net zero target by 2050”.
“Surveys consistently show that the environment is one of the public’s top priorities. In the remaining stages of this competition, it is important that the leadership candidates continue to present their plans to meet their environmental commitments.”