Britain’s top business leaders have urged the Conservative leadership candidates hoping to succeed Boris Johnson not to ditch or backslide on the government’s net zero climate commitments.
Groups representing thousands of UK businesses – including Unilever, Coca-Cola, Scottish Power, Thames Water and Lloyds Banking Group – have called on contenders to uphold policies aimed at achieving net zero by 2050.
It comes as MPs and peers warn that “siren voices” from net zero sceptics on the Tory backbenches are hoping to move leadership hopefuls away from policies aimed at tackling climate change.
Right-wing contender Kemi Badenoch has branded the net zero target “unilateral economic disarmament” and vowed to axe it, while Suella Braverman said the party should “suspend the all-consuming desire to achieve net zero by 2050”.
A coalition of leading corporate bodies – including the Food and Drink Federation, the International Chamber of Commerce and UK Corporate Leaders Group (CLG) – have shared an open letter warning not to abandon the party’s manifesto commitment.
Eliot Whittington, director of CLG, warned that a retreat on net zero policies would “condemn the country to fall behind on the energy transition and face unnecessary costs and risks”.
He added: “Forward-looking businesses want more, not less, ambition on climate action – especially as we see the ramifications of volatile fossil fuel supply chains ramping up the cost-of-living crisis and reducing regional energy security.”
The coalition of business chiefs said investment in green infrastructure and technology would help driving jobs and growth, in a letter coordinated by the UK Business Group Alliance for Net Zero, led by Cambridge University’s pro-climate business group CLG.
Amanda Mackenzie, chief executive of Business in the Community, called on all those hoping to enter No 10 in September to “deliver” on a clear transition to a net zero. “Turning away now is the wrong solution,” she said.
Julie Hirigoyen, chief executive of UK Green Building Council, added: “As prices soar businesses are looking for the next prime minister to deliver on the UK’s legal climate commitments, not ditch them.”
Senior MP Steve Baker – founder of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group (NZSG) of Tory backbenchers – has suggested that he would push for the next PM to dismantle the government’s climate agenda.
Ms Badenoch, appealing to the sceptics, told her campaign launch on Tuesday: “Too many policies, like net zero targets, [were] set up with no thought to the effects on industries in the poorer parts of this country.”
Conservative peer Zac Goldsmith previously told The Independent it would be better to have a Labour government than a Tory leader who “deprioritises” action on net zero.
The ally of Mr Johnson added: “It would be a catastrophic error for Conservatives to select a candidate who deprioritises these issues, but if they do, then we can only hope voters replace the party at the [next] available election.”
Chris Skidmore, a senior backbencher who chairs the Net Zero Support Group set up to rival Mr Baker’s band of sceptics, has vowed to push candidates to uphold Britain’s climate commitments.
“We can’t put net zero at risk,” Mr Skidmore, the former energy minister who signed the 2050 target into law, told The Independent. “I devoutly believe net zero is a vote winner.”