Voters ‘more interested in great big bills than Great Barrier Reef’, says Edward Leigh
A senior Conservative MP has warned Boris Johnson not to “get ahead of public opinion” by committing the UK to climate change action, warning that voters are more interested in their “great big bloody heating bills” than in the future of the Great Barrier Reef.
Sir Edward Leigh’s comment came just days after the UK-hosted Cop26 summit in Glasgow agreed to move towards a “phase down” in coal power generation and reductions in other fossil fuel emissions over the coming years in the hope of keeping global warming within 1.5C.
Mr Johnson came under fire in the House of Commons for failing to secure more immediate cuts in greenhouse gases, with Keir Starmer describing Cop as “a missed opportunity – a stumble forwards when we needed to make great strides”.
But Sir Edward suggested instead that the battle against climate change should take a back seat to the pressure to keep energy prices down and boost the competitiveness of UK companies.
His comments, calling for unrestrained use of the UK’s natural gas supplies, signalled the continuing presence on Tory backbenches of distaste for the PM’s adoption of the climate emergency cause.
“Could I urge the prime minister and other world leaders not to get ahead of public opinion on this,” said the MP for Gainsborough in Lincolnshire.
His constituents “are not so much worried about the future of the Great Barrier Reef in 50 years’ time, they are worried about their great big bloody heating bills now”, he said.
“They are heavily reliant on gas, of which we have abundant supply.
“Manufacturers in northern ‘levelling up’ towns are worried about their competitiveness with China as more and more regulations are imposed on them.”
In response, Mr Johnson insisted it was “entirely realistic to move very rapidly to renewable energy” as the cost of wind and solar power dropped, and said the UK would have a “first mover advantage” in becoming a leader in what he termed a “green industrial revolution”.
The PM hailed Cop26 as “the summit that proved the doubters and the cynics wrong” – as he said it kept alive the aim of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5C, and united the world in “calling time on coal”.
But he lashed out at countries who “really should know better” for “dragging their heels” on climate commitments made in Paris in 2015.
Despite a last-minute ambush by China and India which watered down action on coal, Mr Johnson said Glasgow would be remembered as the place where “the world began to turn the tide”.
He played down the significance of the intervention by Beijing and Delhi, which reduced Cop26 president Alok Sharma to tears on the conference podium.
“You can’t phase out coal without first phasing it down as we transition to other, cleaner energy sources,” the prime minister told MPs.
But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said that hopes were “now on life support” of limiting global warming to levels which scientists believe will avert the most catastrophic consequences.
“We still have the chance to keep 1.5C alive, but only with intensive care,” said Starmer.
“We have to speak honestly about the challenge we face to rebuild the coalition that we need, and to take on the big emitters. We can and we must change course.”
Sir Keir mocked the prime minister’s claim during the Glasgow summit that “190 countries and organisations” had agreed to end coal use.
“On closer inspection, only 46 of them were countries,” said the Labour leader.
“Of that, only 23 were new signatories. Of those 23, 10 do not even use coal. And the 13 that remained did not include the biggest coal users – China, the US, India, and Australia.”
Sir Keir said: “With no public pressure, the big emitters were emboldened and they clubbed together to gut the main deal’s wording on coal.
“Only someone who thinks words are meaningless could now argue that an agreement to phase down coal is the same as an agreement to phase it out.”