Forget Brexit: Environmentalism takes Centre Stage at Conservative Party Conference

The message at the Conservative Party conference was clear: get Brexit done, and only then can we focus on the big issues. Amongst these were a smorgasbord of spending commitments, the future of the NHS and our criminal justice system, and the left-behind communities. 

Environmentalism also played a key role. The Prime Minister's rousing speech on the final day of Conference was not without a mention of the success of British research and industry in this field. He spoke of the growth in genomics, the development of battery technology in the midlands, and the success of the British automotive industry, with one in five electric cars sold in Europe now being made in the UK. He remarked that scepticism was rife in regards to the future of renewable energy in the UK, quoting a previous claim from a commentator that wind turbines 'would not pull the skin off a rice pudding', before boasting of the success of wind and solar in providing energy in recent years. The commentator was later found to be Boris Johnson. 

Animal welfare was a highlight of the new policies introduced by Theresa Villiers, the Environment Secretary, with the banning of live exports of farm animals, in addition to banning the ownership of primates as pets. This comes off the cuff of the announcement of £1.2 billion in funding for environmental projects, to tackle the loss of biodiversity across the world, and to invest in technological innovations in renewable energy and battery technology.

Outside of the main conference speeches, much debate was focussed on our commitment to net zero emissions by 2050, and how we can reach such a target. Fringe events organised by the Conservative Environment Network and various news organisations and think tanks explored a number of avenues, with Bim Afolami MP touting the viability of nuclear energy at an event held by The Spectator. ConservativeHome looked at the role of businesses in tackling climate change, and others looked at how councils can contribute to better environmental decision-making, with a particular focus on air quality.

Fans of the British Conservation Alliance will have been interested in the events held by the ZeroC Campaign, which discussed how market mechanisms could help us transition to a net-zero economy without punishing the less well off. Policy Exchange among others explored the housing market, and how we can build homes that are high quality and environmentally friendly. Elsewhere a plethora of issues was discussed, ranging from the protection of the Blue Belt, the future of the aviation industry, and the importance of green spaces.

The conference also saw the emergence of youth-led environmentalist groups, with members of Tories for Climate Action joining with the British Conservation Alliance in a number of debates hosted by Blue Beyond. With young people increasingly concerned with climate change it was refreshing to see so many people proactively engaged in these conversations. 

There is much to be done to prepare for the challenges of climate change, but the growing support from all major parties shows that there is plenty of enthusiasm for innovative solutions.

Amin Haque