How will the next Prime Minister achieve net-zero?

By Matilda Hartwig

Over the last few weeks, we have been eagerly watching the candidates vying to become the next Prime Minister prosecute their case and announce their key priorities.

At the same time, a new report has been published by the Parliament’s Economic Affairs Committee, calling on the next Prime Minister to grab the country’s net-zero plans, “by the scruff of the neck,” and release a net-zero delivery plan to boost investor confidence and avoid a disorderly transition to renewables.

As the list of potential leaders is whittled down to the final two, we take a look at what this delivery plan could look like under Truss and Sunak governments.

What have they both committed to?

Both contenders have committed to achieving the UK’s legislated 2050 net zero target. 

They have signed up for a raft of pledges put forward by the Conservative Environment Network, which include boosting domestic clean energy to shore up British energy security, rolling out home insulation and electric vehicle charge points, investing in nascent clean energy technologies, implementing the government’s Environment Act, and using new ‘Brexit freedoms’ to support more sustainable farming practices.

They are also open to establishing a carbon border adjustment mechanism to tackle climate leakage.

Renewable energy transition under a Truss Government 

While Mrs Truss has committed to the UK’s net-zero by 2050 target, she has also indicated that she would like to reconsider some elements of the country’s climate policy. 

Her PM campaign has centred around tax cuts and includes cutting green levies on electricity bills, which some have criticised as counterintuitive as the money collected from these taxes supports further investment in renewable energy. 

When looking at her renewable energy preferences, it is likely that she will push gas in the short term to quickly shore up the country’s energy security. She has committed to supporting gas as a transition fuel and has recently backed the reversal of the UK’s moratorium on fracking.

During her time as Environment Secretary between 2014 and 2016, she cut subsidies for large-scale solar farms raising concern with the reduction of agricultural land and calling them a “a blight on the landscape”. She may prove a sympathetic ear to Conservative MPs in Lincolnshire and elsewhere raising concerns about the impacts of large-scale solar farms on the countryside.

More recently, as International Trade Secretary, she has called for greater free trade for low-carbon technologies amid the net-zero transition. She has also promised to help Ukraine reduce its reliance on Russian oil and gas by increasing its access to Britain’s ‘leading green innovative technologies’ such as wind power and hydrogen. These generation methods are likely to form part of her longer-term transition plan.

Renewable energy transition under a Sunak Government    

Mr Sunak has positioned himself as a safe pair of hands for the UK economy during his campaign. He is unlikely to take on a tax cutting agenda and will likely reign in major spending until the economy is closer to being back in black.

During his time as Chancellor, he committed to several funding and cost cutting measures to support green industries, including: 

  • earmarking billions for the UK’s transition to electric vehicles; 
  • introducing an energy profits levy on oil and gas (windfall tax);
  • delivering a post-covid green stimulus package with significant support for low carbon technologies and infrastructure; and
  • At COP26, he said he would make the UK the “world’s first net zero financial centre”. 

He has since followed up this support, committing to establish a new legal target for the UK to be energy independent by 2045. He has pledged to reinstate a separate Department of Energy, which was abolished in 2016, and create a new Energy Security Committee to manage supply issues and reform the market.

However, Mr Sunak’s climate track record has also been criticised. Last week, he committed to scrapping plans to relax a ban on onshore wind, “in recognition of the distress and disruption that onshore windfarms can often cause”. Additionally, earlier in the year, he announced tax incentives for energy firms encouraging oil and gas extraction in the UK until 2025.

What does this mean for the UK’s net-zero delivery plan?

At this stage, there are some differences in both contender’s clean energy preferences, but both candidates’ energy priorities are underpinned by establishing energy independence. This issue is plaguing governments across the EU, and the world more generally, particularly as the impacts of climate change are continuing to be felt across the globe. To this end, gas may have a stronger role in the short-term to sure up the UK’s energy supply, while further investment is made into low carbon and other green technologies.

Questions still remain around how the UK’s transition will be funded, and whether further support measures can be provided to industry in the short-, medium- and longer-term. Mrs Truss’ tax cutting agenda will likely deplete the Government’s Budget, while Mr Sunak is unlikely to take on any major commitments until the UK economy is in a better position.

From the 5th September, once the new Prime Minister is selected, further detail will begin to be released on how the UK will achieve energy independence and transition to net-zero.

This article was originally published in Advocacy Local’s Planning and Politics Newsletter. To receive our fortnightly newsletter, subscribe here: