Penny Mordaunt pledges to create ‘millions of green jobs’ if elected Conservative leader | Penny Mordaunt

Penny Mordaunt has told Conservative critics of net zero that ‘environmentalism and conservatism go hand in hand’ as she pledged to create ‘millions of green jobs’ if elected leader.

The MP for Portsmouth North is so far the only Tory leadership candidate to properly state his views on climate change and the environment.

She made the intervention after a fierce debate over climate targets in her party, with two of the remaining candidates, Kemi Badenoch and Tom Tugendhat, critical of national pledges to cut carbon emissions. Alok Sharma, the Cop26 president, told the Observer that he could step down if the next leader is lukewarm on the environment.

On Monday, Sharma will grill the five remaining candidates on green issues, giving each 15 minutes to talk about what they would do for the environment if elected leader.

There have been fears that a new leader will abandon the controversial replacement of EU farm subsidies, with the farm lobby complaining that he does not want to be paid to conserve nature rather than produce food.

Mordaunt is committed to the ecological farming plan, telling the Guardian: ‘I am committed to reforming EU land subsidies and will instead reward farmers here at home who stand up for nature and sustainable management in the countryside.

“We have already seen so many farmers take these steps, but I want to encourage and support those who are actively taking action to leave a cleaner, greener environment for the next generation. Longer-term sustainable agriculture is an absolutely crucial part of how we can, together, protect our natural world.

Some of his colleagues, including Steve Baker, the MP for Wycombe who leads the Eurosceptic ERG group of Tory MPs, have said the cost of living crisis means the UK needs to increase domestic gas production, rather than switch to renewable energy.

However, Mordaunt said: “The transition to net zero offers the potential to create millions of jobs over the next decade. Quick. Investing in the domestic renewable energy sector reduces the UK’s reliance on fossil fuels like gas, which are exposed to global price volatility. Low-carbon electricity already provides around 50% of total UK generation on average each year.

She added that switching to more renewables would “quickly boost the UK’s energy security”.

The former Secretary of Defense is trying to convince his colleagues that there is a positive argument to be made for net zero, because of the green jobs it would create.

She said: “At the heart of my offer to the country is an unrelenting drive to exploit the opportunities of greener industries and a plan to create jobs in the sectors most likely to benefit.”

To reassure those who think a conservative leader can ditch his climate pledges, she said: ‘Environmentalism and conservatism go hand in hand and are a fundamental tenet of who I am – someone dedicated to the future of our world and the legacy we leave.”

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Most of the candidates have pledged to achieve net zero, and all but Badenoch have signed a written pledge by the Conservative Environment Network pledging to continue the climate policies put in place by Boris Johnson’s government. However, Tugendhat said he favored restrictions on imports from countries with more lax environmental standards rather than achieving net zero emissions domestically.

Rishi Sunak said during Friday’s televised debate that he cares deeply about the environment and is committed to net zero, but offered no firm policy ideas. Liz Truss said she would tear up the EU Habitats Directive and instead investigate the nature of endangered species in the UK, but gave no clue about renewable energy or green jobs.

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