17 Jun 2024

Reform are ‘ostriches with heads in the sand’, says environment minister

Social Affairs Editor and Presenter

We spoke to environment minister Rebecca Pow.

Jackie Long: On a day you’ve come here to make the case for the Conservatives on the environment, you see your leader standing on a gas platform, with many people arguing that he’s rowing even further back in terms of his language on the environment. Attacking Labour’s plans, saying they’re extreme, putting unnecessary demands of green ideology ahead of the needs of British families. It’s not ideology, it’s science, isn’t it?

Rebecca Pow: Yes, it is science. And we’ve heard in that report about the urgency of tackling the climate crisis and the nature crisis. They’re completely, inextricably, interlinked and this is what I’ve spent my whole time in parliament working on, and our government takes that really, really seriously. And it was us that actually legislated for net zero by 2050, and we got the raft of measures in place to transition us to the renewable energy regime. And on the other side, we legislated to halt the decline of nature by 2030.

Jackie Long: We are moving much more slowly than the experts and the scientists say we need to move.

Rebecca Pow: We take expert advice all the time, for example, from the Climate Change Committee, and it is they that have actually said we will always need some gas and some oil. It’s their data. At the moment, 70% of all energy comes from oil and gas. Even when we get to 25% from renewables, some will still have to come from oil and gas.

Jackie Long: The Climate Change Committee say we’ve gone from world leaders to struggling to meet our legally binding targets. Do you feel embarrassed by that?

Rebecca Pow: Wouldn’t it be better, if we have to have some oil and gas, that it’s produced in our waters, where we can see what’s going on, where we can make sure that the emissions are captured? Otherwise we’re offshoring the whole situation. Like the Labour Party, for example, are just not honest about what they’re saying because an awful lot of our oil and gas…

Jackie Long: You’re also not slowing down, are you? The Climate Change Committee are not happy with the pace of change.

Rebecca Pow: We’ve legislated and we will still hit net zero in 2050.

Jackie Long: Rishi Sunak talked today, again attacking Labour’s plan, saying they’ll push our nation’s finances to a cliff edge, hand tyrants like Putin the power to blackmail the UK. Your critics are saying that if your successive Conservative governments hadn’t rowed back on so many green policies, we would currently be better able to provide our own energy needs to shield people’s bills and meet the net zero targets.

Rebecca Pow: I would argue that we haven’t rowed back and actually it’s very sensible not to offshore any oil and gas, because of course…

Jackie Long: Electric cars?

Rebecca Pow: Let’s just finish with the oil and gas. If we get some of that from further afield, even the taxes that are paid, over £4 billion worth of taxes under Labour’s plans, under their new big energy company, they won’t be used in this country. And we have to bring along people with us. We have to look at the cost of living. We have to look at whether people can actually afford to change their gas boilers.

Jackie Long: Rishi Sunak stood on a gas platform today, what is that about? What image is that sending out?

Rebecca Pow: It’s just the small amount of energy that we’ll still have to get from it. But look at our renewable energy record. We’ve got the second, third, fourth and fifth biggest offshore wind platforms in the world, and we decarbonise faster than any other developing economy. I think that’s a record to be proud of.

Jackie Long: You talk about the link with nature, which nobody disputes. Do you know, we’re one of the most nature depleted countries in the world, and under your government, more species have been added to the red list. If you get back into power, what will you do?

Rebecca Pow: What we’ve already done. I was an environmental campaigner, I was an environmental reporter. I went to parliament to work on this. And look, we took the environment act through parliament, the biggest piece of legislation in two decades to go through our parliament. And it sets us on a sustainable trajectory to do what our children want us to do, to do what we want with the air, the water, the nature and the waste and recycling. And we’ve got the policies in place, some of which, of course, involve our farmers. So our elms, our environmental and management schemes and our sustainable farming schemes to bring them on board to use less sprays, less pesticides, more pollinators…

Jackie Long: Very briefly, there’s no doubt as a party you are worried about Reform. Reform have come out today and talked about scrapping net zero targets. Isn’t that going to further push you into a corner?

Rebecca Pow: I would say anybody should be worried about what Reform are saying, when they are literally ostriches with their heads in the sand. Not to even recognise the terrible situation about climate change. We understand that. That’s why we’ve got our net zero energy policies in place, and we need to carry on driving them as we do with the nature restoration. It’s absolutely critical.