Theresa May has warned Tory MPs not to write-off climate change targets and to embrace the government’s ambition to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.
The former prime minister said Conservatives have “for too long” seen economic growth and climate change as mutually exclusive.
She also criticised those in the party who claim so-called “red wall” voters would not support tough climate targets and warned the Tories must do more to appeal to those concerned about the environment in the years to come.
In a speech at the Conservative Environment Network, Mrs May said: “This is really important for Conservatives.
“For too long people in the party saw economic growth and dealing with climate change as mutually exclusive. They are not.
“You can have growth and deal with climate change. It’s about the sort of growth you have.”
It comes after prominent Conservative MP Steve Baker published an article in which he outlined his opposition to the net zero target amid concerns it would cost those on low incomes most.
In May he wrote in The Critic magazine: “Unless someone invents a way to store energy in massive bulk, net zero will mean quivering under duvets in the dark on windless winter nights.
“We are on the path to poverty, misery and a failure to inspire the world to decarbonise.”
Appearing to address these criticisms head on, Mrs May cited polling which shows the environment is a “unifying issue”.
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The ex-Tory leader said: “Recent polling from Opinium shows that the number of people who believe we can’t afford to take action against climate change is now heavily outweighed by those who say that we can’t afford not to.
“And that’s across every demographic – male and female, young and old, rich and poor. Dare I say it – Leave and Remain.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to host the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow later this year, in which nations will work to agree how tough climate targets can be met.
But with significant tax rises to fund social care and the NHS backlog, some question what political appetite there may be to spend big on measures to curb damage to the environment.
Mrs May added: “We must keep pressing ahead – and bring more of our fellow citizens with us – from our own political tradition and right across the spectrum.
“On this the most global of issues, we have a golden opportunity to show the world what Global Britain has achieved and can achieve.
“This is something to be proud of.”
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