Theresa May urges government ‘not to roll backwards’ on net zero commitment

Theresa May has said the “best long-term decision” the government can make is on climate change because action is integral to the “long-term future” of the UK.

Speaking in the debate on the King’s Speech yesterday, the former prime minister suggested the government was not being sufficiently “strong in ambition” to meet the 2050 net zero target.

She explained: “It’s no good waking up on January 1 2045 and saying we’ve got five years to do something.”

The King’s Speech contained plans to have licences for oil and gas projects in the North Sea awarded annually. 

There have recently been questions raised about the government’s ability to meet its 2050 net zero target, with its climate advisers warning the UK risks falling behind without much faster action.

In its latest progress report, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) said the “expansion of fossil fuel production is not in line with net zero“.

But ministers insisted new projects would have to meet net zero targets and claimed the policy would “bolster energy security”.

Rebuking the prime minister yesterday, May said: “I think in relation to the King’s Speech, and the government’s programme on climate change and environmental degradation, the government is missing an opportunity.

“What we need to do now is press the accelerator on the transition to a green economy not try to draw back, and I fear that despite the fact that the King’s Speech says ministers will seek to attract record levels of investment in renewable energy sources, that that is not sufficiently strong in ambition from the government to make sure that they are making that transition quickly enough to ensure that we reach net zero in 2050.

“It’s no good waking up on January 1 2045 and saying we’ve got five years to do something. Let’s do it now because that will be even more costly for members of the public.”

May said she was worried about the Government “giving some mixed messages to investors”.

She told the commons: “They need to have the confidence to invest in our transition to a green economy and we need to show that the government is pressing the accelerator on that, because the best long-term decision that we can make is about climate change because the long-term future of this country and of the people of this country depend on us dealing with climate change and environmental degradation.

“So I want the government to press the accelerator, not to roll backwards.”

She also reminded MPs it was her government that legislated for a net zero emissions target by 2050.

She said: “I welcome the long-term ambition that the government has expressed, its need to take long-term decisions.

“Because good government is not about grabbing short-term decisions to get a headline, it is about doing what is in the national interest and in the longer-term future interest of this country.

“But on that point, I was rather surprised recently when I received an email in the name of the Prime Minister sent out I think by the Conservative Party, where it said the following: from net zero to HS2, smoking to education, we are going to tackle the challenges that other politicians have been afraid to even talk about.

“Now since I read that I’ve been racking my brains as to which prime minister it was [who] put net zero in 2050 into legislation? Answers on a postcard please.” is the UK’s leading digital-only political website, providing comprehensive coverage of UK politics. Subscribe to our daily newsletter here.