Britain’s climate chief could quit as Tory race heats up

London: Britain’s climate minister has indicated he may quit as some Tory leadership candidates dither over the government’s net zero target, ahead of a critical televised debate on Sunday and the final rounds of MP ballots this week.

COP26 President Alok Sharma’s intervention came as a poll of grassroots conservative members, who will have the final say on the two finalists, gave underdog Kemi Badenoch a surprise double-digit lead. .

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss finished second, narrowly ahead of former grassroots favorite Penny Mordaunt and ex-finance minister Rishi Sunak, according to the unscientific poll by the ConservativeHome website.

Badenoch, a former deputy minister with no ministerial experience, runs on a right-wing ‘anti-awakening’ platform and says net zero amounts to ‘unilateral economic disarmament’ by Britain.

The ‘green levy’, backed by Sunak to help pay for the legally enshrined target of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, has also been questioned by Truss and Mordaunt as Britons grapple with a cost of living crisis.

But with Britain facing record high temperatures this week, Sharma told the Observer newspaper on Sunday the target was ‘absolutely a matter of leadership’, as the candidates wage an acrimonious battle to succeed the scandal-ridden Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

“Anyone who aspires to lead our country must demonstrate that they take this issue extremely seriously, that they are ready to continue to lead and take up the torch that Boris Johnson started,” the minister said.

When asked if he could resign if candidates showed weakness on net zero, Sharma replied, “Let’s see, shall we? I think we have to see where the candidates are. And we need to see who actually ends up at number 10 (Downing Street). »

“On the back burner” in the middle of the heat wave

Under President Sharma, nearly 200 countries pledged at a UN summit in Glasgow last November to step up the fight against rising temperatures, after two weeks of marathon negotiations.

But India and China weakened the language of the final text to keep the highly polluting coal, forcing tears and exasperated apologies from Sharma as he brought down the hammer.

Asked about the threat from Sharma, Truss supporter and former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith told Sky News: ‘I’m sorry he feels that way.

Truss still supports the net zero principle, but “we just have to put it on the back burner while we make sure people don’t suffer” from soaring inflation, he said.

Asked if she still supports net zero, Mordaunt told BBC television: “Yes, but it doesn’t have to crush people.”

However, campaigners note that green taxes represent only a small fraction of overall energy bills in Britain, which have soared following Russia’s war in Ukraine.

And they say the current heat wave hitting Europe is a reminder that climate change is an existential threat.

The debate has torn apart conservative tensions over the direction of economic and environmental policy under who will succeed Johnson when the winner is announced on September 5.

International Environment Minister Zac Goldsmith tweeted that with wildfires hitting Europe and temperature records being broken, “it should be noted that there are still elected politicians who think that protecting our planet is not profitable”.

Climate change barely featured in the first televised debate between the Conservative candidates on Friday. But Sharma will have the opportunity to grill them when he chairs an electoral assembly organized by conservative Green MPs on Monday.

After that, all party MPs will hold another round of voting to eliminate the worst-placed candidate – likely backbench MP Tom Tugendhat – before coming to the final two in the coming days.

They will ponder the outcome of the second televised debate, shown on the ITV network from 7:00 p.m. (6:00 p.m. GMT) on Sunday, after Mordaunt was attacked in a concerted fashion by Badenoch and Truss during the first.

Mordaunt, who was briefly Britain’s first female defense secretary before being fired by Johnson, has pushed back on claims she was now lying about her stance on transgender women’s rights – a burning issue on the right conservative.

“There are a number of slanders in the newspapers,” she told the BBC.

Mary I. Bruner