163: Boris and Net Zero: What Happens Next?
About this episode
Welcome to another episode of Outrage + Optimism.
As always, we examine issues at the forefront of the climate crisis, interview change-makers, and transform our anger into productive dialogue on building a sustainable future.
In this episode, co-hosts Christiana Figueres, Tom Rivett-Carnac, and Paul Dickinson reflect on the recent downfall of British Prime Minister (PM) Boris Johnson and what comes next for U.K. climate initiatives, with guests Ben Goldsmith, Founder of the Conservative Environment Network, and Chris Skidmore, MP for Kingswood, near Bristol.
What Does the Collapse of the Johnson Government Mean for the U.K.’s Climate Agenda?
Despite Johnson’s decidedly mixed term as PM一including delivering on Brexit, recent Partygate blunders, and other scandals一he has kept the U.K. focused on climate and nature progress. He’s embraced Net zero by 2050, introduced ambitious goals for 2035, and supported the Conference of the Parties summit (COP26). But what do the hosts think?
Should Johnson’s efforts be contextualized within popular U.K. climate initiatives already underway? Rivett-Carnac quips, “Johnson was surfing the Zeitgeist of [U.K. climate action] consensus that we should be proud of.”
Or, should Johnson get more credit for seizing the moment as a climate leader in face of Brexit and the U.K.’s potentially dwindling global influence? Figueres makes the case, “No one can deny that Boris understood that the COP and climate change represented a very important international positioning for the U.K.”
So, where does the U.K. go from here? queries Dickinson. With the interests of the global right generally focused on issues such as immigration, and new Tory leadership on the horizon, will climate and nature continue to be relevant to the U.K. conservative project? Guests Ben Goldsmith and Chris Skidmore weigh in.
Interview with Ben Goldsmith, Founder of the Conservative Environment Network
First, Ben Goldsmith, Founder of the Conservative Environment Network, discusses how the philosophy of conservation aligns with conservatism. Simply put, terms such as ‘responsibility,’ ‘stewardship,’ and ‘resilience’ are at the centre of conservative ethos, yet resonate for both causes. “To my mind that’s where it’s at…to be a conservative is about conserving things.” Says Goldsmith.
Later he explores why this connection has been lost over the last 20-30 years, his efforts to reverse it, and the significance of our spiritual link to nature in making progress.
Interview with Chris Skidmore, MP for Kingswood
The episode’s second and final interview is with Chris Skidmore, MP for Kingswood. Skidmore was formerly Minister of State jointly at the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy from 2019-2020 and Interim Energy and Climate Change Minister attending Cabinet from 2019.
He’s been pivotal in working to get Parliament and leadership hopefuls to prioritize climate for the electorate and their own electability. He shares his thoughts on who amongst MPs is talking about climate, who he sees as leading on this issue, and who or what he thinks might take us in the wrong direction.
Skidmore’s own vote, he says, is dependent on finding a candidate who's going to commit to Net zero, perhaps a relatively lonely position, amidst the broader party focus on inflation, tax cuts, and other ‘culture war-like or big ticket items.’
Still, Skidmore contends, “...Climate and the environment is a top three priority behind the economy and healthcare. So I think it's really important that the Conservative Party doesn't lose sight… if we want to get elected again in 2024, if we abandon our Net-zero commitments, we potentially will...be digging our own electoral grave.”
Of course, where the leadership race ends up and the implications for Net zero and other climate action is anyone’s guess at the moment.
Our hosts close by agreeing that while the macro climate movement may continue, it would be concerning if the U.K.’s example of bipartisan support for Net zero and the like disappeared in the wake of new party leadership.
They ask, can this even happen given the consensus on climate priority across the U.K. population? Let’s hope the candidates respond to what the electorate wants once they're actually in Number 10, even if they're responding to what they think the MPs and the party want in order to get there.
Until then, enjoy the show!
NOTES AND RESOURCES
For more on conservative environmentalism in the U.K. and overseas visit the Conservative Environment Network.
Read Chris Skidmore’s recent piece with Zac Goldsmith, ‘Ditching Net Zero would be electoral suicide for Conservatives’.
“Hustings” is defined as a meeting at which candidates in an election address potential voters.
To learn more about the climate emergency and how you can translate outrage into action, subscribe to the podcast here.
Tom: [00:00:00] Hi, listeners. It's Tom here. Just letting you know that what you are listening to right now is one of two episodes of outrage and optimism that will be dropping into your podcast feed in the next couple of days. This one covers the implications of the downfall of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister in the UK, with some really insightful conversations that cover what's going to happen next, what we need to be concerned about and what opportunities there are for progress. The other episode, which will be with you in a couple of days, we'll look at the decision at the Supreme Court in the US to limit the ability of the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. And there we will talk to former presidential counselor John Podesta and to former administrator of the EPA, Lisa Jackson. So enjoy this episode today and look out for that one, which will be with you very soon. And we'll be back as a regular podcast next week. Thanks. Here's the episode. Hello and welcome to Outrage + Optimism. I'm Tom Rivett-Carnac.
Paul: [00:01:09] So you can do it. You put your back into it. Cut, cut, cut.
Christiana: [00:01:14] Sorry. Do it again. Right. Go ahead, Tom. Sorry again.
Tom: [00:01:19] Hello and welcome to Outrage and Optimism. I'm Tom Rivett-Carnac.
Christiana: [00:01:23] I'm Christiana Figueres
Paul: [00:01:25] And she's Christiana Figueres. And I'm Paul Dickinson. .
Tom: [00:01:28] No one knows why Christiana is laughing so much today, but it's good to see. Today we reflect on the downfall of Boris Johnson and ask what the implications will be for climate and nature leadership. We speak to Ben Goldsmith, founder of the conservative Environmental Network and board member at the UK Environment Department, and to Chris Skidmore, Member of Parliament, former Energy Minister and Chair of the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Environment.
Clay: [00:01:54] Thanks for being here.
Tom: [00:01:56] Thanks for being here. Clay, can you do something about that?
Clay: [00:01:58] No, I don't think so.
Tom: [00:02:04] Right! The Boris Johnson Conservative government in the UK has gone and done what it has been threatening to do for the last few months and actually collapsed. It's been quite dramatic here in the UK over the last week or so ministers resigned and then more ministers resigned, in the end, I think 50. And then Boris Johnson finally came out and said that he would go as prime minister. Now, that happened four or five days ago, and we now know what the process will be. We will have a new prime minister by the 5th of September in the UK. In the UK. Thank you, Paul. And there were 11 candidates, there's now ten who are all vying to succeed him. Now, in order to be successful, those candidates have to win the support of the parliamentary party, the MPs who will whittle the candidate pool down to two, and then members of the Conservative Party, which is 150,000 mainly white older people who live in the south east of the UK will vote to choose between those two people.
Christiana: [00:02:57] Or is there a particular gender to that?
Tom: [00:03:00] No, there's no particular gender.
Paul: [00:03:01] Any particular attitudes these people have, you know, less and less accepted.
Tom: [00:03:05] There's all sorts of horrible stereotypes. But let's move on. Right. Anyway, so so the question here is there's a lot to be thankful for, probably in the departure of Boris Johnson. I mean, those of us who were Remain will always abhor Brexit. The parties in the entire...
Paul: [00:03:20] European Union, I mean, to break up 300 and something million wonderful people. Exactly. Kind of irritating. They're 24 miles away. I cannot think of anything more stupid, anything more.
Tom: [00:03:30] And then you go on to like parties in Downing Street and all sorts of things. I mean, it's there's the litany is is everywhere and on display for people to see. But one thing that we possibly should give our attention to and we'll do it this episode is for all of that, Boris Johnson has kept the UK focused on the climate and nature issue. Net zero by 2050 came out just before he took office, he introduced ambitious targets for 2035, he has led the UK and and deployed diplomatic support to try to get an outcome at COP 26, which was obviously delegated to Alok Sharma, but the Prime Minister remained committed and the nature agenda has also been close to his heart. And what we've seen in that time period is that there are plenty of people in the Conservative Party that don't want him to do that at all, and many of those players are now circling. So we'll come to that in a minute and we'll talk to Ben. But first, I'd love to hear both of you. What is your analysis of Boris Johnson as a climate prime minister in the UK?
Christiana: [00:04:24] And first, the Brit.
Paul: [00:04:25] I am delighted to go first and I'm going to answer your question by not answering it. The I want to start off with a Prime Minister. Well, I want to contextualize Boris Johnson within something important. And I'm going to draw upon a Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, who was our prime minister in 2008. Now 2008 was a very great year because it was the year that the Climate Change Act was adopted as the UK's basis for responding to climate change, and it requires emissions reductions to be reduced and that climate change risks are adapt to do. It establishes a climate change committee that ensures emissions targets are reached, and it's evidence based that with a good civil service has helped to build a fantastic consensus, I would argue a cross-party political consensus in the UK about climate change, and that's what Boris Johnson went into. Now he also is a great lover of Winston Churchill and, you know, studied Churchill and written about him extensively, I think. And I've said before on the back of the £5 note in the UK it says, I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. But the point being that although it may not always be the most popular cause, a certain particular chapter of British history shows that the difficult decision is the one that actually delivers the necessary outcome for the nation. And I think Johnson was just about enough of a of a smart politician and reader of the people to know that he needed to reflect the national consensus and support and indeed build upon climate change leadership, because I actually I don't really feel like a UK citizen. I feel like a citizen in the world. But if I am waking up on the other side of the bed and feeling a bit like a UK citizen, I can feel quite proud. It was a so awful word to, as I say, national hood, but I can feel quite proud of.
Christiana: [00:06:17] Me apart from Costa.
Paul: [00:06:19] Rica where yes, where everyone marches around in national dress. So to hailing the benefits of the golden nature. But but my point being, I think that actually Johnson was was surfing correctly on a zeitgeist of consensus in the UK that we should all be very proud of. And I hope other countries will, will, will increasingly join us in all that.
Tom: [00:06:41] The UK will continue on. Right, which is far from guaranteed, but Christiana?
Paul: [00:06:43] Oh doom and gloom.
Tom: [00:06:45] No, no, no.
Paul: [00:06:47] No, no. It's fine. I mean, there's always.
Tom: [00:06:49] We have in the UK a bipartisan climate consensus from a party that's pretty far right and one that's on the left. And they both until now have agreed that climate action is important, that is now under threat. There are plenty of Tory leadership hopefuls who want to abolish net zero. You know, Kemi Badenoch, who's actually one of the top leaders now for the for the candidacy, said that she thought that net zero was unilateral economic de militarization. I mean, it's just bonkers language. But Christiana.
Christiana: [00:07:16] What?
Paul: [00:07:18] And economic demilitarization. Wow.
Christiana: [00:07:23] Okay. So I would actually like to agree with both of you. I agree with Paul that it is pretty unique to have, especially in the Anglophone world, it is pretty unique to have bipartisan consensus on climate responsibility and all all credit to the U.K. and to the factors that led to that. I also would agree, Tom, with you that that that now that might be under threat, certainly with new leadership in the Tory Party. And the reason why I agree with both of you is because although there is that bipartisan consensus, it was also taken to a new level of leadership for what I would call either circumstantial conditions or maybe you want to call them historical conditions. But it was the very interesting coming together of a Brexit and the UK's international position being placed seriously under question. Is the UK still an international leader? Is it still an international player or after Brexit? Has it actually just sort of, I don't know, descended into being a little island somewhere that no one can find? And the COP being in the UK gave Boris Johnson the immediate and very tempting and very well used opportunity to stage the UK's international leadership again.
Christiana: [00:09:05] And he did it very well. He did it by naming Alok Sharma as COP president, who did a brilliant job with very, very difficult circumstances. A COPthat was delayed because of COVID, a COP that came within very difficult geopolitical situations, and a COP that actually did deliver. So maybe it didn't deliver the magical potion, but there is no magical potion to climate change. It definitely delivered what it had to and then some. And Boris was actually quite brave in the way that he supported the COP, but also in and in fact just his speech at the COP. Now, that doesn't mean that all government policies and decisions were coherent during the Johnson administration. There were really some some serious warts in there, but no one can deny that Boris really understood that the COP and climate change represented a very important international positioning for the UK, and that not only did he understand it, but he actually stepped into that role quite brilliantly.
Tom: [00:10:19] Yeah, well, I mean, I think there's a few things there. Chris Skidmore, MP who will talk to you later. He's done a brilliant job of trying to keep the government focused on this has pointed out that actually the net zero policy is incredibly popular across the electorate in the UK, people really like the Government is being ambitious on climate and from a Conservative Party perspective, you know, liberal, urban, young and younger voters hate them because of Brexit and they seem to be, you know, they're toxic. Right. Is the language that's used in the UK. Their stance on net zero on climate is what's detoxified that party for some people. And so that has been the political fuel that has led Boris Johnson to actually keep this open liberal approach that includes nature and climate or to the degree that he did, on the other side, most right of center parties around the world are now anti-immigration. There have soft tinges of racism or even harder in some areas, they are climate sceptic or they at minimum think that we should kind of go slow. And what I'm afraid of is that in the UK, if we now row back in that direction and the Conservative Party nominate somebody who is a sort of a slightly warped version of what could be called conservatism, not about protecting nature and protecting the climate, but more about protecting borders and other things like that.
Tom: [00:11:31] Then actually we will have lost one of our best examples of how climate can be relevant to the right. So that's what we should talk to Ben Goldsmith about, our friend who will be with us in a minute. And he's going to be dropping into our call in just a second listeners. Ben was the founder of the Conservative Environment Network. He has been a leader on this issue for a very long time in conservative circles and as a conservative leader and in particular, I think has been very thoughtful about the way in which the philosophy of conservation fits with conservatism. So I think we should start there with him. And then later we'll talk to Chris Skidmore, MP who will dial in about the actual politics of how it's going to work out in the race.
Paul: [00:12:11] You want me to give a little bit of go ahead.
Tom: [00:12:13] Ben's not here. We've got a few minutes. Paul just give ait a go.
Paul: [00:12:16] Little bit a little bit more background on this context because I think it's really important to sort of I was comparing kind of Trump and Johnson, weirdly enough, because they're both sort of described as populists. And I think that Trump has, you know, presided in this highly divided, enormous, physically enormous country, the United States, where people are breaking up into different factions and people talking about the USA like an emerging market. And if it will break up, as Christiana pointed out so delicately, we are a tiny little country in the UK. You know, it takes a tiny little country to know a tiny little country, but we are a tiny little country. And I think we've got more of a consensus around money making actually around climate change. Give you an example: the latest round of renewables auctions saw 11 gigawatts, seven gigawatts of offshore wind. 2.2 of solar. One gigawatt of onshore wind. You know, that's enough to power 12 billion homes. It's all going to be online by 2026, 27, approximately about the same time as the Hinkley Point nuclear reactor is going to be producing electricity at 2 to 3 times the price. So we've got we got the City of London, we've got, you know, the global financial institutions where kind of global green finance hub, we are funding massive rollout renewable energy in the UK and that is putting us in a fantastic position to lead the rollout of renewable energy around the world. You know, the logistics, the finance, the whole project that, you know, the putting it all together, that's what we're doing. So there's that backdrop. I'm also going to shout out to things like the BBC, which I think is a fantastic guardian and what they've done.
Paul: [00:13:54] Yes, you know, all of this sort of means that the UK is very, very lucky. As I said, I'm really not proud of my country on so many different dimensions, not least because it's got lots of problems. And secondly, it's not good to be proud of countries with the exception of Costa Rica. But I really think that there are lessons for the world potentially in terms of climate change and and how we manage to actually have our sort of civil service, our legislative body, supporting a consensus rather than the the somewhat tragic situation in the US where, you know, a kind of doctrinaire Supreme Court has said, well, you know, these attempts to get round the Senate, you know, to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, anti-democratic, and yet the Senate and a lot of the Congress is basically controlled by the fossil fuel industry. And so it's checkmate.
Tom: [00:14:39] We're going to do a separate episode on that this week because those are the two big things that happen this week. But yeah, absolutely. Thanks, Paul. So right, well, let's give let's give our first guest a call. Let's give Ben a ring.
Christiana: [00:14:50] And Tom, you're going to ask the first question.
Tom: [00:14:52] Tom Yeah, I can do that. Yeah, yeah.
Paul: [00:14:54] Okay, we got it. Load More
Tom: [00:14:58] Tom Hey, how are you doing?
Ben Goldsmith: [00:15:01] Great thank-you.
Tom: [00:15:01] Great. Nice to hear your voice. I'm here with Paul Dickinson and Christiana Figueres. Thank you so much for joining us. You're on the podcast.
Ben Goldsmith: [00:15:09] I'm delighted to be on the podcast. Thank you very much for inviting me.
Tom: [00:15:12] Not, not. Not at all. So. So, Ben, where are you today?
Ben Goldsmith: [00:15:16] I'm in Somerset in the sweltering English summer and actually quite happy not to be in London.
Tom: [00:15:24] So. So, Ben, we're going to dive in. We're going to get you for about ten, 15 minutes, I suppose. And obviously, what we want to focus on this week is this critical moment that we're in with the evolution of the Conservative Party. And, you know, Boris is going and that is what it is. But one of the things we've just been talking about is the fact that, you know, he has led on climate in nature and consistently kept that as part of his agenda. And we're now looking at a scenario with new candidates, not all of whom share that political instinct and some of whom are kind of against it. But I just want to start by you have quite a strong view on the philosophy of conservatism and the fact that that links in closely with conservation and that I think as your work as the Conservative Environment Network and and other things has been really important to the philosophy of bringing conservation and conservatism together. So I just love to invite you by starting off to speak about what should conservatism be in relation to climate and nature protection.
Ben Goldsmith: [00:16:20] So I was involved in from the start the UK Conservative Environment Network back in 2010, 2011. And one of the things we did was engage a communications professional from California to help us figure out what kind of language works best with those on the center right around issues such as climate change and the broader question of environmental sustainability. And the culmination of his work gave us three words. And those words were responsibility. And I remember him writing in brackets, particularly towards future generations, as stewardship and resilience. Those were the three words that he described to me in kind of the central to conservative ethos. And to my mind, that's where it's at. I mean, the clue is in the name of to be a conservative is to be about conserving things. So it's about stewardship of shared assets and particularly the natural environment. And in so doing, it's about building resilience into our systems and to our agricultural systems and to our energy systems. By definition, if we move towards homegrown renewables and the much greater efficiency with which we use energy and and raw materials and resources of all kinds, we are building resilience into into the fabric of our nation. So it strikes me as profoundly conservative to want to build a healthy, clean, resilient nature all around us. And I think if you look at the history of environmentalism, it was often those on the center right that were leaders on this, and it was Thatcher and Reagan that built the Montreal Protocol, which was the world's answer to the hole in the ozone layer, a hugely successful international treaty, and they expended enormous diplomatic and political capital in making that happen. Nixon I mean, we remember Nixon for other reasons, but it was mixed in with the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and declared that all American waterways should be fishable, swimmable and drinkable. So there's kind of a rich history of environmentalism on the center right. But that's somehow been forgotten in the last 20 or 30 years. And I'm unsure why.
Tom: [00:18:29] Christiana.
Christiana: [00:18:31] But that is exactly the question. Then why why has that been laid on the side and in the in the past? And are we facing that danger now? In the UK?
Ben Goldsmith: [00:18:48] The UK has been one of the few countries or possibly even the only country that I can think of in which conservatives have polled higher on the environment in recent years than the other parties. And I think that the Conservative Environment Network has been instrumental in that because we've been there at the centre of the conservative movement banging this drum around environmental sustainability, harmony with nature, and particularly these three words in responsibility, resilience and stewardship. And it seems to have been working. We now have more than half of all backbench Conservative MPs in a caucus. They're all signed up to a declaration which pledges a commitment to to net zero by 2050 or sooner to to a restoration of the natural fabric of our country, which of course, is one of the most nature depleted on earth. And we what we've done here has worked. And I think that that I think that we have a plan to take that work elsewhere and to start to talk to conservative environmentalists elsewhere, places like Australia, Canada, the United States, Brazil, where environmentalism is not present on the conservative side of the political spectrum.
Paul: [00:20:04] And Ben, can I just ask about building that out? Because it's a huge achievement to have that consensus embedded and growing inside the Conservative Party in the UK and in other, as you said, centre right parties. But how does that also weave in to a cross-party consensus? Because I guess, you know, we're always trying to evolve that that kind of bouncing out into one party or the other. You know, I personally really applaud the achievements of Al Gore, but it's kind of heartbreaking that he was a Democratic politician. And therefore, there seemed to be that this critical national security or even global security issue of climate change ended up being of one party. How can you how can we sort of work with parliamentarians to to weave that cross-party consensus?
Ben Goldsmith: [00:20:53] I think first start messaging is the most important thing in getting them to listen and getting to engage with these issues. I mean, I think that the solutions themselves divide along two lines, both of which appeal to conservative politicians and thinkers. The first is economic. A lot of the low carbon or no carbon alternatives are actually cheaper and better than what we've used previously. And I think the other part of the answer is spiritual. Now, I think we need to reconnect people with nature in an emotional or spiritual way. I think that people crave contact with nature. I think we need it for all aspects of our well-being, individually and collectively. And I think that somehow conservatives get that. I think conservatives get this idea of a shared inheritance and so on. When you get conservatives to the place of understanding that building, that tackling climate change and building harmony with nature actually creates a more economically rational and a better and more desirable world in which to live, then they tend to come on board is what we've found. And when they come on board and a movement starts to grow in strength on the conservative side of the political spectrum, then you build a debate with the other parties around what the solutions are, and that's the place we're in in the UK. It's not so much an argument over whether there's a problem, which is where America is stuck and the Democrats say we've got a problem, we've got to act on climate and the Republicans say, no, there's no problem, it's a conspiracy theory. Well, here in the UK we don't have that. We have a general cross political consensus that there's an issue that needs tackling and that the solutions are, in a large part, desirable. And so you then have a bit of a debate around what those solutions look like and how you bring them about. And that's a much healthier place to be. Yeah.
Tom: [00:22:44] Ben, this is so insightful. Thank you. We'll let you go in just a sec. I just want to ask I mean, you've pointed out that this you know, this cross-party consensus is possibly unique globally, and it's been incredibly important in the UK. And we and others have pointed to it as an example of where we can get to in more difficult countries. How worried are you given the state of the debate now amongst the candidates, with some of them saying that we should abandon net zero concerns about high energy prices, that that is going to come to an end with the new election of a new Tory prime minister.
Ben Goldsmith: [00:23:15] I mean, I'm worried. I can't pretend not to be worried. There's no doubt that Boris Johnson has been the greenest prime minister we've had. It's been a central pillar of his administration. And I think that Boris Johnson, above all else, has a sense of the sacred. You know, I sort of imagine if if if one were to go for a walk in the park with him and a kestrel would be hovering above you, you know, he'd notice it. He'd pause and reflect upon it. Whereas I think lacking in many politicians is this sense of nature as a sacred thing. And I think that's where it comes from in him. That combined with a very, very effective briefing on climate change he received from the chief scientist soon after taking office, which which which freaked him out and got him serious on climate action. I know enough about his successors, their record is not particularly strong in any case on the environment. I know that Penny Mordaunt, as Secretary of State of DFID, which is the International Development Department, was not at all open to the idea of increasing funding for nature restoration in Britain's aid budget.
Ben Goldsmith: [00:24:23] They just couldn't get her interest or attention on that issue. Rishi Sunak has actually been the most generous chancellor we've had towards nature, but possibly in response to prioritising number ten. And I don't know how personally committed he is. He's made a speech today on nature, well, he mentioned nature, which is enough to have the environmental community celebrating it. Look, it's not it's not a strong bench. That being said, polling suggests over and over again that the majority of voters across age groups, urban, rural, left and right, they want action for nature restoration here and abroad and for tackling the climate crisis. And you'd be a very foolhardy political strategist if you if you were to turn away from this agenda now. So it's possible that wherever they stand on nature, to whatever degree they have a sense of the sacred, just in the interests of sound political strategy, that they will do the right thing by these issues. But I can't pretend not to be a bit worried.
Tom: [00:25:26] Yeah.
Christiana: [00:25:27] It strikes me that in that formula that you just put there, Ben, the the public sentiment and the awareness of the spiritual, there's another factor that you mentioned that you didn't summarise now, which is a very strong science briefing. So you it's very difficult to bring people on to any spiritual awareness, we know that. But is a serious understanding of the threats that we're all under from scientists and from economists. Would that actually be one way of getting new Tory leadership to take this on more seriously than we're currently expecting?
Ben Goldsmith: [00:26:10] Of course, that's right. The chief scientist Patrick Vallance, has invited all members of Parliament from all parties to a briefing on climate change specifically. And my understanding is that the 10% of our least took up the offer. Including, including none of the candidates for the Conservative Party. So I don't know to what extent our parliamentarians even understand the scale of the threat. I mean when when they can so flippantly switch around on this issue, start talking about the cost of filling your car's petrol tank, you know, and so on, as if these are parallel issues, as if one of them is not an existential threat to our civilisation, indicates to me that they don't quite get it.
Paul: [00:27:00] Yeah, but as you, as you build this network of Conservative members of Parliament who are part, you know, prioritising environment, I think that's just a great way to highlight the pressure that the public feel towards their elected representatives to deliver the outcomes that we know that we need. Because you can't hide from this issue. And thank you for bringing those parliamentarians attention to to that stark fact.
Tom: [00:27:26] Yeah, but Ben, we're going to let you go. Thank you so much. This has been very insightful. Really appreciate you giving us some of your time and hope you'll come back on when the new prime minister is in place and we can chat a bit more about what to expect.
Ben Goldsmith: [00:27:37] Thank you for having me. Thanks, guys. Thank you.
Tom: [00:27:39] Great. Thanks a lot. Cheers.
Christiana: [00:27:40] Thanks, Ben. Bye.
Tom: [00:27:44] Okay. So interesting to get a chance to chat with Ben while this is unfolding at this moment. What did you both think about that?
Christiana: [00:27:53] Well, I was bowled over by how open and eloquent he is about our relationship to nature and how unafraid he was to use the word spiritual. That is not common in politicians. That is not common at all. So, you know, kudos to him for for calling it as it is because, you know, he he used the word very intentionally. And we all know that throughout the pandemic, everyone has been craving contact with nature. But there are few who are willing to use the word spiritual in public.
Paul: [00:28:32] Hmm. I'm also going to try and get a prize for quoting something 100 times on outrage and optimism. I'm only up to about 30. Something to look forward to. It is the it is the most quoted thing on this podcast. Is it Churchill? The comment from Gus Speth. No, no. Gus Speth, this one, I think we all know it off by heart. I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, the ecosystem Pcollapse and climate change. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy. And to deal with those issues, we need a spiritual and cultural transformation and we scientists do not know how to do that. So I thought it was interesting, Christiana, to hear you talk about the combination of the chief scientist.
Christiana: [00:29:16] And then he was the one who said that. Right. He mentioned the scientists briefing of Boris. And and he said that Boris does have this sensitivity for his contact with nature and his awe of nature. Yes. He was the one who brought them both together.
Paul: [00:29:36] Yeah. I saw some quote, actually, somebody saying, like, we we we worship an invisible God and then we we destroy nature without realizing that.
Christiana: [00:29:44] Actually one is.
Paul: [00:29:45] The God that we should be.
Tom: [00:29:46] Worshipping. That's actually on Ben's Twitter account.
Paul: [00:29:48] There it is. There you go. Right? Yeah. Yeah. This is me doing my research, then imagining I thought it myself.
Tom: [00:29:55] So I went to a dinner last week with Ben. He was down here in Devon and he invited me to a dinner he was hosting with the Devon Environment Network and he gave a quite brilliant speech about the fact that he'd never heard a Nightingale sing in the UK. You know, it's just like it really touched something in people. There's like this real love. And I think what he's done so beautifully is he's pointed out the love, the spiritual element of nature, and the fact that that needs to be at the heart of our politics. And I mean, I thought actually it was a moving tribute to Boris Johnson, actually what he just said about that personal element, which is not something people have said that much about him and maybe should have been said more while he was in office. But my sense of him is he's actually kind of really worried because this cross-party consensus that he's done so much to build along with others over the last years is now really under threat. If if if we end up with a with a penny Mordaunt or a Kemi Badenoch or even someone like Liz Truss, their instinct is not going to be to protect climate budgets, to focus on nature. It's going to be completely the opposite. And that is going to have the unfortunate effect, and I don't mean to be too negative of rolling back the most probably one of the most bipartisan, strongest bipartisan consensus on climate change. Certainly in the G20. We can't let that happen, though I'm not quite sure what we can do about it. Paul's wagging his finger at me.
Paul: [00:31:05] I put it to you, Mr. Rivett, Carnac that it's the world is run by piles of money and there's a big enough pile of money backing low carbon technologies of the United Kingdom that these petty politicians, whichever one is chosen to lead the Rat Pack, will not be over to overpower this great pyramid of money.
Tom: [00:31:22] Well, I mean, ultimately, I think you're right, but they can slow it down, and that counts for a lot at the moment. Right. So this is a special episode where we have two guests and the next one is Chris Skidmore MP is going to be dialing in in a minute. So Chris Skidmore was Minister of State at Department of Education and Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy from September 2019 to February 2020. And he was the Interim Energy and Climate Change Minister attending Cabinet from 2019. He is the Conservative MP for Kingswood, which is just near Bristol, and he has played an incredibly important role in Parliament of trying to get the parliamentary party as well now as the leadership hopefuls to focus on the issue of climate and to realise how important it is for their electability. He recently wrote a joint op-ed with Zac Goldsmith, Ben's brother, who is currently a minister for the international environment in the current government, pointing out that from their perspective, ditching net zero would be electoral suicide. So what should we talk to Chris about?
Paul: [00:32:23] Chris Chris is inside the machine that chooses the next Prime Minister,of the United Kingdom. He can see the cogs in the wheels, the whirling camshafts and the pistons and the oil. He understands it all. We must ask him how it works.
Tom: [00:32:40] There's oil inside that machine. That's not very good.
Paul: [00:32:42] No, no. Oil should be in a machine to either replace the oil. Where you place the machine. That's what I was taught.
Tom: [00:32:46] Well, certainly we should care from him how it's working internally, I also think I'd be fascinated to ask him the vibe in the Palace of Westminster at the moment where all the employees are gathered. I understand that Jacob Rees-mogg's, European Research Group, incredibly climate sceptic Brexit supporting group. There's been a parade of Tory Party candidate leadership candidates in to see that group of MPs making their case for why those MP should back them. It will be very interesting to hear what the narrative is amongst MPs and who is talking about climate and who does he see as actually leading on this issue and who does he think would take us in the wrong direction?
Paul: [00:33:20] He's a rather sinister chap that Rees-Mogg and I think he's probably worked out that being Prime Minister isn't the way to have most power in the UK.
Tom: [00:33:26] It's like a Harry Potter villain.
Paul: [00:33:27] Yes, enormous lapels. I mean, they're so wide that if the wind blew, he would take off.
Tom: [00:33:32] I saw an amazing picture of him the other day out with his umbrella with his son. And someone had said, "these colourised photos from the 1920s are really quite remarkable" It was a picture taken from him last week
Paul: [00:33:41] No, but that's his sort of trademark identity. It's going to be lives in the 1920s because it was simply better then, you know, I'm not entirely sure he was right.
Tom: [00:33:50] Okay. That's call, Chris. Christiana, do you want to jump in with the first question with Chris?
Christiana: [00:33:56] No, no, no, no. You Brits are totally in the lead here.
Tom: [00:34:00] Okay. So shall I ask the first question again? 100% be about the. Yeah. Hi, Chris.
Chris Skidmore: [00:34:09] Oh, hi. Hi.
Tom: [00:34:10] All right. It's Tom here. How are you?
Chris Skidmore: [00:34:12] I'm not too bad. Is this. I'm on a telephone. Is that the right thing to do?
Tom: [00:34:15] No, no. This is absolutely perfect. I'm here with Christiana and Paul as well. Thanks so much for joining us.
Chris Skidmore: [00:34:20] Thanks very much.
Tom: [00:34:22] Great. So, Chris, we're going to dive in and we just wanted to take a relatively short slice of your day. So like ten, 15 minutes or something. But obviously, like many others, we're sort of watching this and slightly wringing our hands in the sense that, you know, there was love him or loathe him, Boris Johnson, did keep the attention on the climate and nature issue to a pretty impressive degree at moments. And if you look at the bench of candidates, it's far from clear that they will continue to do that. So I just love to hear you talk for a couple of minutes about how you see the candidates lining up and whether or not you are feeling positive about the chances of net zero and nature protection being a high priority for the new prime minister.
Chris Skidmore: [00:35:02] Sure. So I think the first thing to recognize is this sort of leadership contest is incredibly truncated in terms of a timeline. So we've got the close of nominations taking place today at 6 p.m. and then we'll have a first round ballot tomorrow, a second round ballot on Thursday, and it will be done and dusted by the 21st of July while the time parliament breaks up. So there's not much time really to actually interview the candidates. I am putting together an environment hustings to give the members of Parliament the chance to interview candidates who've got across the line. The threshold they need is 20 MPs, but obviously a lot of people are already committed. So it's almost like the race is almost over before it's begun. A number of the candidates have already come out and made hostile comments on net zero in particular. That's not to say that they are anti-climate, but there's a bit of an element where net zero has been brought into a culture war that somehow it's an unaccountable target. One candidate's referred to it as an arbitrary target without any reference to obviously the work that has gone on in identifying net zero as the framework by which you achieve 1.5 or limit 1.5 degrees warming. So I have sort of come out of the blocks to say, you know, my vote is dependent on finding a candidate who's going to commit to net zero. There's not going to try to play political football with, you know, a target that the UK became the first G7 country to legislate for net zero three years ago. And obviously on the back of, you know, COP26, we still have two months or three months left of our presidency and it would be an absolute tragedy if obviously the UK would seem to be rowing back on its climate commitments. So Alok Sharma actually sort of retweeted an article I jointly wrote with the actually the current sort of Environment Minister Zac Goldsmith. Yeah. Where we talked about actually abandoning net zero would be electoral suicide.
Christiana: [00:37:06] Yes, we saw that. Thank you for that. Thank you very much for that. And Chris, how lonely or how much in company do you feel in that position that you have taken for whoever is going to win your support?
Chris Skidmore: [00:37:24] I think it is, you know, a bit of a lonely place because I think a lot of the priorities of the current candidates are obviously there's a huge direction around what how to deal with inflation in the UK. So the sort of the big ticket item that people are talking about is do they have fiscal conservatism or do you go sort of tax cutting routes? And I think some people are sort of there was there seem to be a view that actually by not talking about the environment, maybe it won't trigger off some MPs to sort of say that they actually want to abandon particular environmental climate targets. So I think there's a bit of reticence to talk about it. I come from the sort of opposite view of thinking, well, if it's not on the agenda now, if candidates not don't commit either way to net zero, then that potentially creates a problem down the track in terms of actually not getting them on record for that. So so that's why I've been sort of keen to do and I think, you know, the question will be that this will come down to two candidates come next week and they will go to the Conservative membership. And obviously there are a number of divides, whether it's sort of looking at tax I said, whether it's looking at sort of wider cultural war issues. There's lots of issues around trans rights that for some reason certain MPs get quite vexed about. I'm just determined to make sure that net zero isn't sort of one of those divisive issues when it comes to the membership vote next week, because when it comes to actually marginal seats and looking at sort of who wins the general election, climate and the environment is a top three priority behind the economy and health care. So I think it's really important that the Conservative Party doesn't lose sight and turn inwards and recognises that, you know, actually if we want to get elected again in 2024. If we abandon our net zero commitments, we potentially, as I said in the article with Zac Goldsmith be digging our own electoral grave.
Paul: [00:39:16] So this is absolutely fascinating and difficult for me to understand. Just why would it be that it's a top three issue for the public and yet, you know, leading contenders would be, you know, threatening to play a kind of culture war or something that's clearly a giant chemical problem with the atmosphere. How did that disconnect get into the system?
Chris Skidmore: [00:39:39] Well, I think there is a sort of you know, it's a similar issue with other things that happened on social media, this sort of funneling approach. So people talking to people and then realizing they get sort of, you know, support on on Twitter or social media. You know, we've seen this in the Conservative Party, a net zero scrutiny group question the need to achieve net zero by 2050, whether it's an imposition. And I think there is a sort of maybe amongst some of my colleagues a sense that net zero is the sort of equivalent of the new sort of EU anti-EU campaign, a sort of unaccountable international elite that then imposing particular sort of targets on the UK. I just don't think that's shared amongst the country at large and that's, you know, the wider population recognise I mean we're in the middle of a one of the hottest summers the UK's ever faced as this leadership contest unfolds. And I think the public recognise that's not the case. But the problem is, is that when you've got the electorate of just the MPs, there are certain candidates on the right who are vying for every vote. Obviously to get across that threshold of 20 you need to stand and then it's going to be a scrap to who can be the final candidate of the right. And the right is quite split, I think, in the Conservative Party. So my worry is obviously it's know sort of person who wants to try to be seen as the most sort of the figurehead of the right is going to try to make as many sort of pledges that maybe excites those MPs.
Tom: [00:41:11] Yeah, it's I mean, I have to say, I've gotten kind of used to living in a country that has bipartisan consensus on climate change and the idea that that would begin to ebb away and we'd sort of see it returned to the political sphere where those on the right, you know, maybe don't deny climate but aren't this ambitious is kind of alarming because the UK's played a really critical role internationally I think in demonstrating it can be bipartisan. So I'd love to hear any thoughts on that. And then also before we let you go, of course, we have to ask you which of the current candidates and appreciate the pool will be thin pretty quickly, do you think has the best approach to climate in nature right now?
Chris Skidmore: [00:41:45] So I think on the question around ensuring we retain universal consent for net zero or for climate change action, I think it is it is an awakening that we do. We are going to face this with net zero, I think widely, more widely internationally. You know, there's five more or seven more presidential elections till 2050. And, you know, the current crop of politicians, you know, won't be accountable for obviously decisions that are being taken, but also the consequence of their action. None are going to be around by the time we reach our sort of NDCs sort of targets in 2030. And I think that's something that we do need to always think about, actually, in terms of future innovation. And I hope that ultimately we might look at how we can move away from the politicians being in charge. I think sometimes of of our climate goals, because politicians words are welcome and our commitments are welcome. But, you know, I think the completion of Paris rulebook hopefully will allow us and the private sector to take more of a role than have been previously envisaged. And actually what I've seen is I think that the why I'm still optimistic is actually and we saw this with Trump, you could have a, you know, a president come forward and claim he's going to take unilateral action against removing the US and Paris Agreement. And then actually you get a whole host of private sector organisations, NGOs, federal states coming forward and saying, actually, you know what, we're still standing up for climate and we still are members.
Chris Skidmore: [00:43:16] We still personally believe in the agreement. And and I think that hopefully will continue to happen, which will prevent sort of political agencies and forces of turning our climate commitments. Now, as to the current leadership race, I mean, I have come out to say I'm not backing any one candidate at the moment, but there clearly are a number of candidates, I think sort of three in particular who for me have made strong net-zero pledges. They are Rishi Sunak, they are Penny Mordaunt and Jeremy Hunt so far. But I want to keep pushing the candidates. I think that's the key thing. So I'm organising a hustings, I said for the candidates next week we have a 1922 committee which is going to have its own hustings. And I'm intending to ask all candidates in the 1922 hustings what is their position on net zero and will they commit to our existing environment and climate commitments because ultimately they haven't got the mandate to be able to roll back on them. Net zero was a manifesto commitment on the front page of the Conservative Manifesto in 2019. So I am very clear that that manifesto commitment needs to be kept and obviously I will look forward to their answers. The hustings will take place after the first vote on Wednesday evening.
Paul: [00:44:34] Chris, it's amazing to hear you talk about the independence of of achieving those climate change commitments. I remember once reading the head of the actuarial profession saying that the government wasn't competent to set retirement age. We do have an independent central bank. Do you think there may be a separate branch of government that seeks to, you know, essentially protect us from climate change one day? Would you support such an initiative?
Chris Skidmore: [00:44:56] Well, I think we've got the obviously the Independent Committee on Climate Change in the UK. I've just joined the Environmental Audit Committee, so I will be scrutinising Lord Deben tomorrow on their work and obviously they've come out recently with their annual report actually setting out where the UK is or not when it comes to actually meeting their net zero goals. I think that for me when it comes to looking at sort of how do we mainstream this into the lives of every individual so that actually individuals can be themselves holding their institutions to account because the more people that can question, the more people that can actually demonstrate that they need change to be consistent and realisable actually then actually that makes it more permanent I think. My worry and this is speaking as a politician is that, you know, if you make too few people accountable for actually what it needs to happen, then it's very easy then for politicians to make U-turns is very easy for those commitments not to be made, as we all know. You know, ever since we had the Kyoto agreements, you know, I think certainly since we've had Rio back in 1990, we've got half of all carbon emissions in the atmosphere have been produced since 1990, and that's with politicians over the past 30 years claiming they're going to take action. What we need is, is a far more encompassing measure, almost like the Montreal Protocol, when we looked at CFCs and said, look, this is happening. And actually a worldwide total action was taken because everyone realised this is the consequence. So, you know, cross-sectoral approaches that can be established now through the realization of Article six in the Paris rulebook for me must be a real priority. And obviously who holds those organisations to account? It probably does mean sort of a regulatory body and I think sometimes the legislation can't come fast enough in that regard.
Christiana: [00:46:59] And Chris, is there any space for a scenario under which we wouldn't get the political and regulatory leadership that we would wish to continue in the UK? But that to go back to the other factor that you named and Article six, which takes us to the private sector, is there space to think that that private investment decisions would be led primarily by competitiveness and sheer survival of business, and that those would move forward independently? Obviously, there would be much more help by regulation. But how far do you think that that we could have something in the UK like what we saw in the United States under Trump that both cities and corporates moved forward even without national regulation.
Chris Skidmore: [00:47:54] Exactly. And I hope my hope also is that when it comes to private capital markets and looking at sort of realization of patient capital as well, that the the new world, as Mark Carney has said, is that climate change action is not only, you know, makes environmentally good sense, it makes economic good sense, and that there are a number of assets, say in the UK there's been a big discussion of whether we should embark on fracking. The government is yet to make a proper decision. They've opened up a review into whether that should take place. But we may be in a place where even if the government allows for potential licenses, I don't necessarily see where the financing potentially is coming from. You know, private markets are recognizing these could potentially be not only stranded assets for the future, but simply there could be consequences for making those investments. And I think also not just financial consequences in terms of not being able to access that private capital, but also reputational risk. And I think, you know, we recognize the ESG frameworks that are being developed, particularly, you know, through the Science Based Targets initiative. That's really having an impact. Now, I think, amongst the banking organizations in the U.K., you know, I met with NatWest for dinner yesterday, and they recognize that they're not going to be working with organizations or companies that can't help them achieve their own emissions reductions that they have made. And I think someone like Alison Rose, who's come in as CEO of NatWest, has said this is a priority for us and we're not going to be making investing decisions or lending decisions without sticking to our science based targets initiatives. So I think I've got great faith and I know this is about optimism and outrage, and I am optimistic, as well as obviously slightly outraged by some of the comments that my colleagues have made, that we can achieve progress and change even if sometimes the governments come and go. And that's the other thing to remember. You know, politicians come and go and, you know, society at large is on a journey and that's going to remain.
Paul: [00:50:01] Thank you so much for calling out science based targets, by the way, which I'm sure will lead us to science based policy. And together they will march into the sunset to our collective betterment.
Tom: [00:50:09] I think outrage, but I think optimistic but slightly outraged is about the best mix that we can find. So thank you for that. And thank you also for everything you're doing to try to keep this issue front and center throughout this Tory election process. So important. Chris Skidmore, so good to talk to you. Thanks so much.
Chris Skidmore: [00:50:24] Thank you very much for having me
Christiana: [00:50:24] Thank you so much.
Chris Skidmore: [00:50:25] Thank you very much
Tom: [00:50:26] Thanks.
Paul: [00:50:27] Goodbye.
Tom: [00:50:29] So there we go with the second interview in our two interview episode with Chris Skidmore. How interesting to get an insight from inside the process. And one of the conclusions I leave that with is we have to get this episode out within a few hours or it's going to be already old news. But what did you both leave the conversation with?
Christiana: [00:50:46] Concern. Real concern, right. As you said, Tom, at the very beginning of this, it it's not going to, let's put it this way, it won't stop progress on climate at a macro level, but it is concerning that we would lose this shining example of broad support, of bipartisan support. And the huge enigma is the one that Paul asked: How is it possible that we would lose the bipartisan support when the population is overwhelmingly for it? It's just so difficult to understand that.
Tom: [00:51:26] Money and politics.
Paul: [00:51:28] Well, not really. I was I was referring earlier to huge powers of money, and there's more than one huge pile of money. And that's the problem is, you know, as the as the huge piles of money, duke it out with each other, it has historically been the case that the biggest pile of money wins. The difference now is extreme weather is making all of this very real and very scary for everybody and sounds stupid, but oddly enough, you know, certainly in the northern hemisphere where most of the OECD nations are, you kind of don't tend to notice or freak out when the winter is a bit warmer than it used to be. But when in the summer, you know, you're you're kind of sweating without air conditioning, worried about, you know, your elderly relatives and friends, then then it's pretty real. So I think, you know, woe betide anyone who becomes leader of of, you know, prime minister of the United Kingdom and abandons the public at this critical moment in our development. And, you know, God forbid that it were to happen, you may end up with a kind of Putin type situation where a particular attitude is disgraced by behaviour and hopefully we can and I'm being positive now, move forward to more rational government in the years ahead. I don't think there's any going back. I hope not.
Tom: [00:52:33] Yeah. I mean, I share your concern, Christiana. I mean, the only thing I can sort of hope for is that the parliamentary party has really swung fairly far to the right with Jacob Rees-Mogg and European Research Group. And as we said at the beginning, you need to get first of all through that hurdle and then you need to be nominated or selected by the party members themselves who historically have been less concerned about these sorts of issues. So, what I suppose the best we can hope for is that these candidates will respond to what the electorate wants once they're actually in Number Ten, even if they're responding to what they think the MPs and the party want in order to get that, but doesn't seem like a very good way to run a country or a world, does it?
Paul: [00:53:14] What was as it Chris said the selectorate? It was a brilliant word.
Christiana: [00:53:18] Selectorate it by the way for the for the two of you question because our non UK listeners will probably be wondering what's husting.
Tom: [00:53:30] A hustings. A hustings is an opportunity for a parliamentary candidate to appear before their voters and put their perspective across or both before any any group, unless Paul has a better description of it.
Paul: [00:53:41] Yeah. You know, when you see Donald Trump on television by his airplane getting loads of people to sort of shout at the top of their voices, that is a husting.
Christiana: [00:53:49] Does it have an SE at the end hustings.
Tom: [00:53:51] Yes.
Paul: [00:53:53] If there's more than one.
Tom: [00:53:54] No.
Paul: [00:53:54] I think tradition of the. We'll put a link in the show notes.
Christiana: [00:53:59] Please do.
Paul: [00:54:00] To be honest, I didn't get any qualifications in grammar. It's all quite the reverse. I have my my family motto is often wrong, but never in doubt. So you will get opinions from me. It's also rubbish. So we understand because I.
Christiana: [00:54:12] Always get a bit strong opinions from you, Paul, whether you know you have any knowledge of the subject or not.
Paul: [00:54:18] You know, I find that the more knowledge you have, sometimes, the less your opinions come forward with the kind of clarity and force that I want to be associated with.
Tom: [00:54:24] And we should share with our international listeners. We do realise how absurd all this is. I have my father in law staying from the US at the moment and I was watching on, on my laptop the unfolding of this whole process of ministers resigning and you know, they were saying that Lord Sandwich of Balderdash would have to weigh in on something. And my, my father peered over my shoulder, he goes, Is this a comedy show? And I was like, Yeah. Kind of is.
Paul: [00:54:46] A very senior politician in in the Palace of Westminster. And she was dressed up in some, like, ludicrous suit, and she was with all these kind of people with with kind of cutlasses or sticks and they were sort of banging the floor and walking in a weird way. And I kind of looked her and we were like kind of getting the giggles, like, you know, really, really, you know, if the houses of Parliament don't look like something out of Harry Potter, I don't know what does.
Christiana: [00:55:11] Well, excuse me. As Dame Christiana Figueres, I am afraid that I will have to call I will have to call both of you to order on political traditions in the UK.
Paul: [00:55:21] Dame Christiana, please forgive my very fool. .
Tom: [00:55:26] I do like it that you roll that out when you need to that's good.
Paul: [00:55:27] Notice how sort of quiet and scared I am?
Tom: [00:55:34] Okay. Right. Are we done? All right. So thanks, everyone. This is one of two episodes this week, so there's probably more than enough. Enjoy and we'll see you back with the regular episodes next week by everyone.
Christiana: [00:55:45] Bye bye.