The UK's ruling Conservative Party faces taking “the road to nowhere” if its next leader chooses to scrap net zero emissions targets, the president of the Cop26 summit has said.
Alok Sharma, a business secretary under Prime Minister Boris Johnson, said the Conservatives would face a reckoning from voters if the party dropped green policies under pressure from climate-sceptic MPs.
Britain has played a central role in tackling the climate crisis and is one of dozens of countries that have pledged to end reliance on fossil fuels and reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2050.
However, some candidates in the Tory leadership race have questioned the effects of a net zero commitment on economic growth.
Leadership candidate Kemi Badenoch MP described the 2050 net zero target as “unilateral economic disarmament”.
Questions were raised about the commitment of Penny Mordaunt to the UK’s net zero climate target.
Mr Sharma, speaking to the i newspaper, said that scrapping climate-friendly policies would be counterproductive and “economically illiterate”.
“Economically, environmentally and electorally it would be a retrograde step for us to resile from this policy,” he said. “It’s a road to nowhere.”
The Office for Budget Responsibility said the cost of unmitigated climate change could reach 300 per cent of the UK's gross domestic product, Mr Sharma said.
“I don’t want the legacy of our generation to be that we saddled future generations with huge amounts of debt," he said.
He said eco-conscious policies, such improving home insulation, were not only good for the climate but could act as a “bazooka” for economic growth.
“The fastest way of helping people reduce bills is making their homes more energy-efficient”, he said.
Mr Sharma said Australia's right-wing Liberal Party was voted out of power when its traditionally conservative base began to vote in favour of environmentally friendly policies.
These “teal voters” were right-wing, or blue, who adopted traditionally green polices.
“You had a conservative government which some people thought was tone deaf when it came to issues of climate that mattered very much for lots of voters,” Mr Sharma said.
Environmental groups have urged the Conservatives and their next leader to stick to their climate targets.
Shaun Spiers, executive director of environmental policy think tank Green Alliance, said tackling the climate and nature crisis should be central to this leadership race.
He said no candidate had put the environment at the forefront of their campaign and that it was “deeply depressing” that some seemed intent on “turning the clock back”.
“Rather than lazily dissing green initiatives, let’s hear how the candidates propose to meet the climate targets we’re lagging behind, reverse the catastrophic decline in nature and tackle the fossil-fuelled hikes in the cost of living," he said.