Battle lines are already being drawn over the drive to achieve Net Zero ahead of the next UK general election, according to a new report from communications consultancies, BECG and Cavendish Advocacy.
Tellingly, the report shows that just six months on from COP26, only a third of Conservative MPs indicated they would make Net Zero a campaign issue on the doorsteps, compared with 84% of Labour MPs.
Net Zero is likely to be a key issue at the next general election, with think tank Onward recently warning that any party which reneges on the commitment would lose votes.
The research for BECG and Cavendish Advocacy, carried out by pollsters Savanta ComRes, reveals a widening disparity in party attitudes towards achieving Net Zero.
The polling analysis contained in the report - What politicians think about Net Zero and the Green Economy - also reveals a gap in MP attitudes across the UK, with around three quarters of politicians in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland saying they will be campaigning on Net Zero, compared with just under 50% of MPs in England.
Even in England there are regional differences in attitudes, with MPs in the south more likely to make environmental issues a key campaign issue than those in the Midlands.
The UK government announced its Net Zero Strategy just ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow last November, pledging to meet its climate change target by 2050. This followed the publication a year earlier of the government’s 10-Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution.
Despite this commitment, 40% of MPs are not confident the country is on track to meet its green goals.
The BECG and Cavendish Advocacy report shows that confidence in the UK reaching Net Zero only increased by 2% amongst MPs because of COP26.
MPs also believe that few elements of the government’s 10 Point Plan are currently on track. Confidence is highest for advancing offshore wind at 36%, with progress on ‘jet zero and ships’ polling at a lowly 13%.
Gareth Morgan, Cavendish managing director, said: “While COP26 appeared to create a cross-party consensus on meeting Net Zero targets, our research shows that consensus is slowly beginning to unravel. The war in Ukraine and cost-of-living crisis have completely changed the political landscape and more MPs, notably in the Conservative party, appear to be taking a more pragmatic view on how to meet our future energy needs.
“As we edge closer to the next UK general election, it will be interesting to see what path the government takes to continue to meet its commitment to reaching Net Zero. COP26 raised high public awareness and expectations in the face of a climate emergency and politicians can expect scrutiny on what progress has been made on Net Zero when voters go to the polls.”
The worsening crisis in Ukraine and the government’s commitment to ending supplies from Russia prompted Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng to assert that the issue is “no longer about tackling climate change or reaching Net Zero targets”. He declared the government’s priority is now about securing “clean energy independence as a matter of national security.”
MPs also believe that COP26 has had very little impact on changing public attitudes to renewable energy projects, with just 3% believing that support for these kinds of projects will increase amongst their constituents.
However, a majority of MPs agree that a clean energy supply and generation is the key to the UK reaching Net Zero. Despite the rush towards ‘clean’ renewable energy, the report reveals a softening in views towards nuclear power, with around half of MPs being more supportive following COP26.
Following COP26, support has risen for green hydrogen and hydro power amongst both Conservative and Labour MPs. Support for onshore wind splits opinion between Conservative and Labour MPs.
MPs also recognise the importance of supporting households to become more carbon neutral, with 46% backing more investment in measures such as insulation, solar panels and heat pumps.