Written on July 12, 2022 by Ben Gascoyne 

Through nearly three years of crisis and scandal, Boris Johnson’s government maintained a strong, public commitment to ambitious net-zero targets and policies. Whether facing criticism for underinvesting or overinvesting in the net-zero transition, and whether or not his high-profile announcements led to actual deliverables, the outgoing Prime Minister reliably championed progress in low-carbon energy, industries and transport solutions amongst his Government’s headline achievements. 

As the Conservative Party’s contest to replace him gets going, pro-net zero voices from within the party have voiced fears that this support cannot be taken for granted.  

Multiple candidates for the leadership with the endorsement of their parliamentary colleagues have voiced their opposition to net zero as a policy priority, claiming the 2050 target is arbitrary, harming growth, preventing tax cuts and contributing to the cost-of-living crisis. Take Steve Baker MP, who said, while considering his own run: “I think if the public found that they got discount gas on their energy bills because they had accepted shale gas extraction near their homes, I think that would be extremely popular with them.” He has now backed fellow net-zero-sceptic Suella Braverman. 

Even if those candidates do not win, the price of their support in the later rounds may be high-profile cabinet positions or policy concessions. 

Of course, the support of Government is still going to be vital in the highly regulated, highly complex fields where net-zero solutions are most sorely needed, and where technologies are still in their infancy. 

So, in a world where the consensus on net zero is under threat, how can organisations driving the net-zero transition best communicate with political audiences? 

  1. Think about the politics 

According to current polling, hundreds of Conservative MPs may find themselves battling to hold onto their constituencies at the next general election.  

Almost uniformly, they will be looking to tell voters that they have delivered jobs, growth and pride for the areas they represent. That means new investment that they made possible and can press release to their local media, and the ‘hardhat moment’ for the front cover of their leaflet. 

For net-zero-focused businesses, it will be vital to speak their language. That means telling MPs how net zero translates to real, tangible benefit for their constituencies. That may mean shiny new electric or hydrogen buses, or new orders for a local business, or new apprenticeships to keep up with the demand for advanced new skills. Be clear: what’s in it for them, and how do they make it happen? 

2. Ensure officials are well briefed 

There is a vast gulf between standing out to party members in a competitive campaign and the realities of governing. 

One of those differences is that the next Prime Minister and their cabinet will be actively briefed and advised by civil servants with knowledge of the sectors they work in, the priorities of investors and key industries, and the limitations of Government. 

Organisations focused on the net-zero transition should proactively engage with those civil servants who can help improve the chances of getting a fair hearing by the next Government. Although political hearts and minds will still need to be won in the wider party, ensuring that Government’s civil servants, advisors and analysts are well briefed can be key. 

3. Stay positive about the big picture and the long term 

Although opponents may try to badge the net-zero transition as contributing to the cost-of-living crisis and the need to cut taxes, the businesses driving a sustainable future have every right to be positive.  

While the energy price cap is expected to rise significantly again this autumn due to continued high natural gas prices, the latest wind and solar contracts auction saw the price of new renewables continue to fall, and below fossil fuels.  

EV adoption is skyrocketing, as are new charger installations, resulting in lower per-mile costs for everyday passengers. Generally, the voters that Conservative MPs need to stand a chance at the next election are very concerned about climate change and want to back net zero. When asked, polling suggests it represents a rare win-win-win to prevent household insecurity, deliver economic growth and do the right thing. 

So, in a world full of problems, organisations with net-zero solutions should speak loudly, proudly and clearly about how they make the lives of voters more affordable, more secure and more prosperous. If the public at large continues to back those solutions as they get cheaper and more readily available, even the most sceptical of politicians will not stand in the way of history’s long arc. 

Whether speaking to voters, officials or politicians, if you are making the net-zero transition possible, this is no time to be shy. 

For more information on the political implications of the net-zero transition, please contact Ben or one of his colleagues at [email protected]. 

 

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