Climate action must not become culture war issue, says net zero tsar

The UK must avoid climate action becoming a new front in a “culture war”, the Government’s net zero tsar has said.

Leading green Tory Chris Skidmore said he wanted to “reinstate” a cross-party consensus on net zero, saying he would back a future Labour government in tackling climate change.

Speaking at the launch of his Net Zero Review, titled Mission Zero, he said: “When it comes to Mission Zero, it’s colour-blind when it comes to political parties.”

In an interview with the PA news agency, he said: “I’m extremely keen that regardless of who forms a government in October 2024, or whenever the next general election is, they are able to welcome this report.”

He added: “The risk now is that net zero and action on climate change is somehow politicised along the lines of a culture war.

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“That’s the last thing that can happen.”

Mr Skidmore’s review, published on Friday, said the UK needed to go “further and faster” on climate change and claimed inconsistent policy had held the country back from taking advantage of the opportunities for green growth.

Mr Skidmore said he had spoken to all political parties while compiling the report, and met Conservative net zero sceptics including South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay, who heads the backbench Net Zero Scrutiny Group.

He told PA: “Change is uncertain, and uncertainty creates fear in people, I understand that.

“That’s why, as part of this engagement, I met with Craig Mackinlay and the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, to make sure that I reflected people’s fears in what change should look like.

Mr Skidmore also said the UK needed to act now, putting plans in place to ensure it could “accelerate” towards net zero from 2025.

His review contains 25 recommendations for action in the next two years, which he said would avoid a return to “stop-start” policies caused by a lack of clear planning.

He said: “We can’t let anyone off the hook. We need further delivery and implementation action now.

“We’ve seen a paradigm shift in 2022 – the Inflation Reduction Act, what the States are doing, what Germany is doing, even what China is doing.

“It will mean the UK is in a net zero race. It’s falling behind in that race if it doesn’t maintain its foot on the pedal, and therefore it needs action now.”

Mr Skidmore also criticised the Government’s decision to approve plans for a new coal mine in Cumbria, saying it was a “mistake” that would not have been possible if his report had been in place earlier.

Asked about the mine during Monday’s launch event, he expressed doubt about whether it would ever be built, saying it was subject to a legal challenge.

He said: “Let’s wait and see whether this coal mine actually happens – if this report is taken forward it never will.”

Energy minister Graham Stuart told the launch event that the Government was “absolutely committed to meeting our target” and described net zero as “the opportunity of our century”.

The Government is expected to publish a response to Mr Skidmore’s review by March.