Stick with net zero targets for good of economy, businesses urge next PM

Business groups representing Amazon, Coca-Cola, Unilever and Lloyds Banking Group have all called on Conservative leadership contenders to protect the net zero target for the good of the economy.

There have been fears that the leadership election could cause the UK’s climate commitments to be ditched, as at least two contenders have said they would pause the emissions targets.

In an open letter, many of the UK’s leading business groups have called on the leadership hopefuls to deliver solutions to the climate and nature crises, and give businesses confidence to invest.

The letter states: “We have seen first-hand that investment in low carbon infrastructure and technologies delivers huge economic benefits. Supportive policy measures bring down the costs of clean technology, enabling businesses to capitalise on growing global markets.

“The benefits are significant. From job creation, increased exports, and geographically dispersed growth to inward investment and improved air quality from clean energy. Important contributors to levelling up opportunity across the UK.”

The plea, organised by Cambridge University’s pro-climate business group CLG UK, also makes the case for a clean energy transition in shoring up energy security and helping households with the cost-of-living crisis.

It highlights that many jobs are at stake if the climate commitments are abandoned; 56,000 new jobs were created in clean industries in the 20 months since the government’s 10 point plan for a green Industrial Revolution, and there is scope for an additional 440,000 jobs from the net zero strategy released last year.

Eliot Whittington, director of CLG UK, said: “The Conservative party has a significant track record of climate leadership. Their new leader will have a choice between building on this track record and delivering for the UK economy and society, or abandoning it and condemning the country to fall behind on the energy transition and face unnecessary costs and risks.

“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 next prime minister must centre climate policy and continue delivery of net zero and regenerating the UK’s nature.”

Lord Adair Turner, the former chair of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), and former head of the CBI employers’ organisation, now chair of the Energy Transitions Commission, told the Guardian: “I definitely think businesses want to continue with net zero. Most businesses have very clear net zero targets, and most are aware of technologies that get us there [to net zero].

“What businesses want is continuity of policy. That enables them to plan. They hate instability of policy, when one government takes one direction then another government takes a different one. They want long term targets, and want to know where they’re going. There is wide acceptance of net zero.”

While some candidates appear to be attempting to capitalise on a culture war over the climate crisis in order to fire up the Conservative voter base, senior Tories including Zac Goldsmith and Chris Skidmore have warned this would be a surefire way to lose the next general election. Environment minister George Eustice has pointed out that the policies for net zero are already in place, and said it is the direction the world is travelling in.

Dan McGrail, CEO of trade association RenewableUK, said: “We want to be clear with all MPs putting themselves forward to be the next Conservative leader that delivering net zero is a pro-business stance. You can already see the benefits of decarbonisation through the rollout of new renewable energy, which is lowering consumer bills, driving billions of pounds of private investment into the UK and boosting the productivity of our economy.

“Our net zero ambition is not just about protecting our environment and climate, but the modernisation of our economy.”