It was only two years ago when we were told by policy advisors that it would be all about the environment, environment, environment from here on in. Sure enough, as we approached Cop26 in Glasgow there was a flurry of new policy announcements – most notably the Government’s Net Zero Strategy and the passing of the long-awaited Environment Act.
Despite this, Cop26 was viewed as a limited success – whilst nations agreed on the Glasgow Climate Pact which states that carbon emissions will have to fall by 45% by 2030 to reach the 1.5°c goal as set by the Paris Agreement, there were some notable limitations particularly around coal-fired power and climate finance.
Fast forward just one year and we’ve seen a very different build up to this year’s Cop27 being hosted in Egypt.
Our new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak expressed a reluctance to attend this year’s conference blaming “depressing domestic challenges.” This didn’t go down well with his colleagues or activists and once the former Prime Minister and self-proclaimed “spirit of Glasgow” Boris Johnson announced his attendance, Sunak was quick to U-turn on his decision.
But what does this actually tell us about the direction of environmental policy under the new administration?
Clearly, as we approach the Government’s autumn statement on 17th November, domestic challenges are high on the agenda. We also know that Sunak sent a strong message by dropping Cop26 President Alok Sharma and Climate Minister Graham Stuart from his cabinet. But there has also been a notable shift in Government rhetoric surrounding climate change, in particular its relationship to the war in Ukraine and the rising cost of living.
This was a trend which began under Liz Truss, who tasked former Energy Minister Chris Skidmore with undertaking a review of the Government’s Net Zero Strategy to try and establish how these targets can be achieved without placing “undue burdens on businesses or consumers.” The former Business Secretary, Jacob Rees-Mogg also announced a focus on the concept of “Intelligent Net Zero” in his speech during the Conservative Party Conference in September.
Sure enough, Sunak used his speech at Cop27 to declare that “climate security goes hand in hand with energy security” and a renewed focus on renewable energy is now vital. He also emphasised that the struggle against climate change can be transformed into a “global mission for new jobs and clean growth.” In the context of the rising cost of living it is unsurprising that Net Zero is being viewed through the prism of creating jobs, benefitting businesses and, of course, securing energy supplies.
This correlates with research we conducted recently, which revealed that a majority of MPs agree that clean energy supply and generation is the key to the UK reaching net zero.
Despite Sunak’s initial resistance to attending Cop27, it would be over-simplified to describe his administration as being less focused on the environment. Both he and his Levelling Up Secretary, Michael Gove, have expressed significant concerns about Liz Truss’ plans for investment zones, particularly around the relaxation of planning laws and the impact this will have on environmental protections. It remains likely that we will see investment zones scrapped completely or severely watered down at the Government’s autumn statement.
Very soon after becoming Prime Minister, Sunak acted to reinstate the fracking ban which was largely welcomed by environmental activists. At Cop27, he also announced £65.5 million for the Clean Energy Innovation Facility in order to support countries with the development of clean technology.
So far under Rishi Sunak’s premiership Net Zero may not have dropped entirely from his agenda – but it is fair to say that we may be witnessing a significantly more cautious and business-friendly approach to achieving these targets.
For organisations and companies with an interest in net zero and clean energy, now is the time to open dialogue with both Government and the opposition. To ensure your organisation is getting in front of the right political audience and securing the best possible media coverage, please contact the Cavendish Advocacy Green Growth team to find out how we can support your strategic aims.