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ESG News Review: Conservative vote a litmus test of public net zero appetite

We’ve probably all overheard cynical, one-sided conversations on trains, in pubs and on social networks that go something like this.

“ULEZ has gone too far”.

“It’s too much, too fast.”

“I’ll stick with a gas boiler for as long as I can.”

Because the reality is that while the UK’s political parties have said for years that they share a common goal of continued progress towards a net zero economy, the policies, investments and above all the lifestyle changes that are required to get there can be controversial. And they can meet resistance from the ‘man in the street’.

Amidst all of the pledges and policies that will be flying around ahead of the UK’s General Election in early July, one area that may be central is the major emissions-cutting action that requires people to change their mode of transportation or method of heating homes. With the Conservatives so far behind in the current polls, watering down climate action may just be a way of appealing to some voters, particularly in suburban or certain rural constituencies that may be more impacted by them.

According to a Financial Times piece this week, the Tory rowing back on climate goals, which has already begun with a couple of announcements over the past year, is “endangering people’s lives, jobs and opportunities for economic growth by taking a negative approach to climate action and rowing back on the energy transition.” Strong words, but indicative of the party’s internal tussles on the matter.

Former (briefly) Prime Minister, Liz Truss, this week called on her successor to ditch all net zero targets.

And Reform UK figurehead Nigel Farage, who visited Dover this week to talk up the party’s immigration stance, has already echoed that sentiment. Reform wants to get rid of the UK’s net zero ambition and hold a referendum - yes, another - on the country’s legally-binding 2050 goal.

The industry reaction to the politicisation of emissions reduction policies seems unmoved though. When the Prime Minister announced a softening on the electric vehicle and domestic heating transition last autumn, the construction and automotive sectors were vocal critics, given the investments they’ve made and strategic courses they’ve set to decarbonise.

UK business interests go beyond those of UK voters of course. But in five weeks time, we’ll know whether enough of the electorate are sufficiently opposed to the UK’s net zero pathway to cause the mother of all election upsets. If it can be distilled from the other macro factors - apathy, frustration, a desire for a steady economic hand - that will determine the outcome, it should provide a litmus test of public support for the way the UK is striving to attain net zero emissions.

But as the FT also put it, “Sunak’s move does not look like a vote-winning masterstroke so far.”

The ESG News Review is written by Steve Earl, a Partner at PR agency BOLDT.

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