Amid Liz Truss’ speech, at the end of a chaotic and contentious conference, a protest by Greenpeace activists was perhaps inevitable given the frustration and concern simmering among environmentalists over the direction of the government policy.
The Prime Minister’s remarks will only have increased their anxiety.
To cheers from the boardroom, she raged against the ‘anti-growth coalition’ that is ‘holding Britain back’, checking the names of Extinction Rebellion and Greenpeace.
They were just two of many green organizations targeted in recent days – including the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the National Trust, a slew of farmers across the country and anyone who has ever opposed hydraulic fracturing. – all of whom seem, surprisingly, to have become conservative haters.
As Paul Miner, the policy chief of the not-so-radical Campaign to Protect Rural England, put it: “This fallacious ‘anti-growth coalition’ rhetoric ignores rural communities across the country who have sincere concerns about the government’s program. It’s not the environmental protesters who are organizing the resistance to fracking, it’s ordinary people who are furious at what they see as a litany of betrayals and broken promises.
Environmental groups have warned that government plans to cut environmental legislation in investment areas and water down payment schemes for natural farming could lead to the collapse of biodiversity. But instead of engaging with them, Tory MPs called them liars and alarmists.
Fay Jones, MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, said ‘we’ve seen some organizations push the nuclear button’ and suggested environmental NGOs have ‘cheated people’. Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Chairman Robert Goodwill donated the two barrels to the RSPB, saying: “The RSPB has a lot to answer for; they scared people saying we were going to tear up the rule book and there would be no environmental protections”. Given that the RSPB has over a million members (including many Conservatives), this seems an interesting electoral strategy.
Even veteran environment lawmaker Graham Stuart, now climate minister, stuck the knife in, telling the Guardian that wildlife NGOs were “jumping into alarmism” and calling their complaints “misguided”.
A former environment minister said the government’s attitude towards the RSPB and other wildlife groups was “depressing and shameful”.
In the end, Environment Secretary Ranil Jayawardena held last-minute crisis talks with Beccy Speight, the RSPB CEO, in an attempt to assuage the anger of Tory voters who had written. But it’s understood they didn’t see eye to eye, and left angrier with each other than they had at the start of the meeting.
This strange and disjointed strategy also appears in the government’s other policies; notable moments include Jayawardena declaring Britain would be a “world leader in lettuce” and Jacob Rees-Mogg’s plans to attend COP27 to proclaim to the world that “fracking is green”.
And as the battle over nature-based payments for agriculture continued, Jayawardena’s priorities were made clear by who he decided to meet at the conference, attending every event organized by the National Union of farmers and finding time to recount a lunch with the British Shooting and Conservation Association that he was an avid shooter, but in the meantime he didn’t attend any green events and snubbed Wildlife Trusts NGOs at the RSPCA. Speaking at the NFU’s evening reception, he did not mention nature, but instead pledged to reduce regulation for farmers. He said: “Sometimes the government’s job is to get involved, and sometimes the government’s job is to get out of the way, and we’re going to do both.”
Last year things looked so different; the Tories had stronger green policies, Boris Johnson promised to launch a renewable industrial revolution and the Green Tories were the beauties of the ball. In 2022, however, instead of proudly advocating for a global, innovative and green Britain, the most environmentally conscious Tories have been reduced to begging the public not to turn their backs on net zero.
Chris Skidmore, the government’s net zero czar, told a room of his colleagues that there were fears the country could fall behind in the global race to decarbonise if the pressure was not kept up. “We cannot simply rest on our laurels. We have to keep running if we want to stand still.
At a sideline meeting of the Conservative for the Environment, former Transport Minister Grant Shapps said: ‘We need organizations like yours to keep pushing on this,’ and urged the room to make the UK “the first nation to get to this incredible green industrial revolution”. .
Were there any glimmers of hope at the conference? A couple: The consensus on hydraulic fracturing, for example, is that there’s no way it’s going to happen. A minister told me there was “absolutely no way to do fracking, parliamentary numbers don’t add up”, and Skidmore triumphantly declared that “fracking is dead” after Liz Truss backtracked on the 45p tax cut – he thinks that means she will do the same on fracking because her MPs hate it so much.
Pro-fracking MP Goodwill also thinks it won’t happen, but blames Keir Starmer: “It won’t happen. And the reason it won’t happen is because Labor has said they won’t fracking. So why would any energy company in the United States or anywhere else invest a lot of money planning to drill a hole in the ground when they know that if there was a change of government it would stop, so I think right now that’s not going to happen.”
Just don’t tell that to Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg, who told the Guardian he plans to attend Cop27 in Egypt next month to tell delegates that fracking is ‘green’. This may prove a bit awkward for the UK on the world stage, especially as King Charles has apparently been told not to go. Ministers say he has “other priorities now”. There is still confusion over whether Truss, who made little mention of environmental issues at the conference, will leave.
Another small consolation for eco-friendly conservatives is that their main antagonist has promised to shut up.
Net zero skeptic Steve Baker told the Guardian he would no longer air his views on the climate emergency: “I’m not lobbying other ministers as I’m too busy trying to restore power by Northern Ireland, and protocol . Once I get out of this room, I probably won’t think about net zero for very long. »
Unfortunately, this also seems to be the policy of our Prime Minister and his new team.