In a week of climate chaos, the environment is still absent from the agendas of the two candidates left running for PM in the UK.
In a week where the UK has experienced a record-breaking heatwave and unprecedented resultant wildfires in and around London and in the rest of the country, the race for who will be the next Prime Minister has also heated up.
The UK public are left with the prospect of two candidates, though the UK public will not get to vote on their favored candidate. That is the privilege of only 0.7% of the electorate: rank-and-file Conservative Party members who are predominantly older, wealthy, white males.
But given that climate change has deeply affected the country over the last week, it has been somewhat absent from the debate. To make matters more urgent, climate change-inspired wildfires have absolutely ravaged Europe, with France, Spain, Italy, and particularly Greece being more than scorched by massive wildfires.
We must take note that the temperature records were not just beaten by an expected 0.1° but by a staggering 1.5° up and down the country. The records were “obliterated.”
So far in public debates and statements between the Tory candidates for PM, all we have seen is whether the candidate would support the UK’s pledge to achieve net zero carbon emissions, agreed at COP-20, by 2050.
One of the last to fall in the candidate race was Kemi Badenoch, who sits much further to the right, and who has cozied up to climate change denialists. Badenoch herself only, at the very end, agreed to support net zero but only because we were undergoing record-breaking temperatures on that day, and the public were obviously concerned.
Now we are left with former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak (a typical private-school Tory fiscal conservative, who once declared his friends were aristocrats and definitely not working class) facing off against Foreign Secretary Liz Truss (who started as a Liberal Democrat who once gave a speech against the monarchy but who jumped ship to embrace the right in her quest for power). Though truss voted to remain in the Brexit debate, she is now firmly ensconced on the right, playing to the baying fringes who have recently become more mainstream.
The vote now goes to the party members, most of whom will not be embracing a green agenda. So, to court these votes, the candidates will appeal to that kind of rightist politics.
Truss was the environment secretary under David Cameron but she has some of the most prominent climate skeptics as her supporters. She has previously cut subsidies for solar farms, seeing them as “a blight on the landscape”. In the recent TV leadership debates, she did commit to net zero, saying that we needed to “find better ways to deliver net zero” that won’t “harm people and businesses.”
Sunak has shied away from talking about the environment and the net zero pledge. When pressed in the ITV debate, he stated, “If we go too hard and too fast then we will lose people. And that’s no way to get there, and I think we can get there in a way that’s about growth, that’s about jobs, that’s about industries of the future, and that’s the way to do it.”
Though Truss is more popular with party members, there is a long way to go. In the final duel between the remaining pair of Conservative candidates, we are still unsure of who will win. What we are sure of is that, in this contest, the environment will lose.