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Reclaiming the ‘Conservation’ in Conservative

Conservative councillor for Merrow, Guildford—Cllr Jan Harwood—guest blogs for Zero Hour on whether the Conservative Party “can take back ownership of environmental action”.

Over the last decade, climate change and biodiversity loss are subjects that have begun to dominate the political bandwidth of some of the key voter demographics. What was once a poorly understood issue (amongst the public)—and a limited source of political capital with young voters—is rapidly widening to encompass nearly the entire voter base.

It’s common to see in politics a prevailing notion that if your opponents are aiming to score goals at one end of the pitch, by definition, your objective must be located at the other end of the field. In the case of climate action, this has resulted in a loss of ground to the political left and centre-left on the pro-action side of the field.

I strongly believe that the Conservative Party must immediately seize back this ground for two key reasons.

First, a rapid response to the climate crisis is fundamentally in line with core conservative principles. Protection of our current way of life and society requires immediate action in line with the established scientific consensus. Putting aside moral considerations, it makes good economic sense. There are two sure-fire ways to succeed in business, be first or be the most efficient. It is an irrefutable fact that green tech is one of the fastest growing sectors in the world. The UK is exceptionally well-positioned, with our high quality research and academic institutions – coupled with a strong core of well established tech companies – to capitalise on the green revolution. We do, after all, have pedigree when it comes to industrial revolutions.

With minimal intervention and guiding the objectives of the private sector through smart legislation, we can not only encourage a green revolution, but we can also ensure that the UK is a global leader on this subject. This is one of the fundamental building blocks of conservatism: managing societal change with robust and competent economic management. The management of one of the greatest challenges mankind has ever faced should be entrusted to Conservative hands. Otherwise, we may end up marching in a direction that spells disaster; both economically and socially.

Second, the narrative currently being spun by the left is that conservatism is misaligned with environmentalism. This could not be further from the truth. I know for a fact that the majority of conservative activists care deeply about climate change and biodiversity loss. However, this topic is likely to grow in influence over the voter base. If we don’t act now to claim back credibility and ownership over this topic, we risk electoral disaster further down the line. Perhaps not in this cycle (or the next), but as the symptoms of the planetary crisis increase – flooding, famine, wild fires etc. – so will the voter engagement on the topic. We already face an uphill battle reclaiming the political ownership of the topic of environmental conservation. We must begin the fight back now.

So what exactly am I proposing? Simple. Support reasonable initiatives to tackle the issue. Engage with organisations and campaigns that are ‘traditionally left-dominated’. And above all, follow the science and focus on competence and credibility. The most important science we must immediately pay attention to is the threshold of the rising global temperature. It would be a mistake to deflect calls to act further and faster via concern over cost or implications; the pandemic has proven that extraordinary measures are limitless in the face of global crises.

The current challenge is clear: we must limit global warming to 1.5°C and restore the damage done to nature. Let’s fire the starting pistol. Let’s do what we do best, and rise to the challenge by implementing innovative solutions. I want to see the UK Government commit to this objective and incentivise action in the strongest way the UK Government can make: legislation. Legislation that follows the science, incentives change and leads the pack.

I encourage all of you to look up and sign the Nature and Climate Declaration by Zero Hour calling on the UK Government to commit to the above. Let’s build back greener!

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