'Are you scared?' And 49 other climate questions for the candidates to be the next Prime Minister

James Murray
clock • 8 min read
PM Boris Johnson announces his resignation on 7 July | Credit: Flickr, Treasury

PM Boris Johnson announces his resignation on 7 July | Credit: Flickr, Treasury

The climate crisis is about the economy and the environment, which is to say it is about everything - the next Prime Minister should be able to answer questions about it, a lot of questions

Over the next few days, as the UK bakes in record-breaking heat the five MPs with a shot of becoming the next Prime Minister will take part in a series of televised debates. The likelihood is that they will face a couple of questions on the climate crisis and the net zero transition, and several more related questions on the energy security and cost of living crisis. But the nature of the format means they are unlikely to be seriously quizzed on what should be the defining economic and environmental issue faced by their government.

The truth is that the climate crisis is about the economy and the environment, which is to say it is about everything. Our political leaders bear a genuinely world historic responsibility to try and drive the development of a net zero emission economy in less than three decades and end the obliteration of nature. They should be asked about it, at length and in-depth.

If the candidates could be convinced to sit down for a few hours to properly clarify their position on the biggest political and economic challenge these are just some of the questions they should face.

  1. Do you accept the IPCC's warnings that the world is on track for more than 2C of warming, which would unleash genuinely catastrophic climate impacts over the coming decades that would threaten food security, drive unprecedented levels of migration and human suffering, and drastically increase the risk of conflicts?

  2. How would you prepare the UK for such a climate-impacted world?

  3. How do you expect developing economy nations to adapt to more than 2C of warming and all that comes with it? Will you commit to helping them cope with resulting loss and damages? What is your strategy for the upcoming COP27 Climate Summit in Egypt?

  4. People will die in the coming days as a result of the heat wave impacting the UK. How do you plan to make our homes and infrastructure more resilient to levels of heat that will become ever more frequent and intense?

  5. How do you plan to make the UK more resilient to the drought, wildfire, and flood risks that will also increase in the coming years?

  6. Are you concerned about the drag on productivity - after a decade of flatlining productivity - of escalating climate impacts? How do you plan to tackle the risk of such impacts?

  7. The chair of the CCC has likened the UK government's climate resilience strategy as being like 'Dad's Army'. Do you regret the failure to prioritise climate resilience over the past decade? The failure to strengthen building standards so that homes don't overheat, the decisions to cut flood defence spending?

  8. Do you accept the view of the OBR, the CCC, and many others that it is much, much cheaper to decarbonise the economy than delay action to cut emissions and instead solely focus on climate adaptation?

  9. Do support the UK's net zero emissions by 2050 target and accompanying interim targets for the 2030s?

  10. If yes, how do you intend to strengthen decarbonisation efforts given the CCC just warned the UK is badly off track to meet its targets?

  11. Do you regret the failures of the past decade to deliver policies that would have kept the UK on track to meet its emissions targets?

  12. Which areas of the economy have the greatest potential to accelerate decarbonisation efforts over the next decade and how would you help ensure this potential is realised?

  13. If you do not support the current target are you proposing to change the law to shift or scrap the net zero target?

  14. Will you seek an electoral mandate through an early election to do so?

  15. What would be your message to the businesses currently planning to ramp up investment in job-creating and cost competitive low carbon projects to help deliver on the UK's net zero targets?

  16. What would be your message to the many other countries that have net zero targets in place? How would you expect COP26 President Alok Sharma to convince others to strengthen their targets in support of the Glasgow Climate Pact (that the UK government signed) if the UK is watering down or ditching its target?

  17. Do you support the UK's target to end the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2030?

  18. If yes, what steps do you intend to take to ensure the target is met? How do you ensure the focus on switching to EVs does not distract from the need to promote public transport and active travel?

  19. If no, are you concerned that changing the target could undermine planned investment in the electric vehicle supply chain? Why do you not want the UK to be a world leader in this industry?

  20. How do you intend to deliver the planned wave of carbon capture, hydrogen, and nuclear projects over the coming years? How will you minimise the impact of these projects on energy bills?

  21. How do you intend to help households and businesses cope with what is set to be a trebling of energy bills over the past year?

  22. If your plan is to 'abolish' green levies, do you recognise that these levies will still have to be paid through general taxation if you don't want to breach contract and axe energy efficiency and fuel poverty schemes? If so, how will you fund the move?

  23. Do you also recognise that such a move will knock around £150 a year off bills at a time when they are expected to be approaching £3,000 a year? If so, do you have any alternative plans to help people cope?

  24. Do you regret the government's previous decision to cut energy efficiency schemes and block onshore renewables projects, which has added billions of pounds to energy bills? Will you reverse these decisions and increase spending on energy efficiency upgrades and take steps to further accelerate renewables development?

  25. What is your strategy for strengthening and upgrading the grid to incorporate more renewables and deliver sufficient energy storage capacity?

  26. Will you advise people to save energy and help them do so, for example through optimising their boilers or driving slightly slower?

  27. Do you accept there is a case for borrowing to invest in low carbon infrastructure that benefits future generations? After all, no one complained about paying back the UK's war debt. 

  28. What is your contingency plan if Vladimir Putin stops exports of gas to Europe sparking a genuine energy supply crisis?

  29. How will you tackle skills shortages in the green economy?

  30. Will you move forward with the planned reforms to farming subsidies so that land-owners are only paid if they deliver public goods, such as enhanced biodiversity and carbon sinks?

  31. The Environment Agency just reported that pollution from water companies has worsened yet again - how do you plan to tackle this crisis? Do you agree with the Environment Agency that senior executives that pollute should face prison time?

  32. How do you plan to address concerns about food security while expanding the area of land for natural carbon sinks?

  33. What is your strategy for the upcoming COP15 Biodiversity Summit? How do you plan to convince more countries to agree to the target the UK has endorsed of protecting 30 per cent of their land and oceans?

  34. How do you plan to deliver on the government's goal of making the UK the world's first net zero financial centre?

  35. Will you revive plans to require all large firms to produce net zero transition plans?

  36. Do you intend to move forward with plans to reform the UK's emissions trading scheme?

  37. Are you in favour of a carbon border adjustment mechanism to tackle concerns over 'carbon leakage'?

  38. Are you concerned about stranded asset risks as the global economy decarbonises? Do you recognise this as a potential threat to financial stability?

  39. Would you lift the moratorium on fracking? If so, what would you do about the resulting increase in emissions? Would you actually expect such a move to reduce energy bills, as some MPs have claimed, entirely contrary to expert opinion?

  40. Would you approve plans for a new coal mine in the UK?

  41. If so, what would be your response to the IEA's call the world should stop approving new fossil fuel extraction projects if it wants to meet agreed climate goals?

  42. What clean technology are you most excited about?

  43. Where do you see the UK's competitive differentiator as economies around the world rush to develop their clean tech industries?

  44. What lessons have you taken from the success of the offshore wind industry?

  45. How do you plan to regulate the negative emissions sector so that it delivers promised emissions and does not detract from the need to cut emissions at source?

  46. Will you advise people to eat less meat and dairy and take other steps to reduce their emissions? The government does advise people to eat healthily and not smoke, why is this different?

  47. Do you understand why some people have decided that civil disobedience is necessary to raise awareness of the need for bolder climate action? How would you respond to such protests?

  48. What do you tell your children when they ask about climate change?

  49. You are young enough to have a good chance of still being around in 2050 - do you think the UK and the wider world will have built a net zero emission economy by then and averted the worst impacts of climate change?

  50. Do you fear what will happen if we don't? Are you scared?

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