The polling firm YouGov has been tracking views on the environment for nearly a decade.
For most of that time, the subject ranked pretty low in terms of voter priorities.
But this election marks a big change. Figures from July show that more than one in four voters (27 per cent) rank the environment as one of their three top issues — behind Brexit and health, and on a par with crime and the economy.
For the younger generation, the sense of urgency is even more profound. Some 45 per cent of 18–24 year olds put it as their second biggest concern after Brexit.
So the first televised election debate tonight focusing on this defining issue is hugely welcome.
The challenge of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 cannot be underestimated. The reality of meeting this target means that 2020 must usher in a decade of delivery.
Business is already playing a vital role in delivering this economic, social and technological transformation. But unless we can work in partnership with politicians and the public, our efforts will be left dangerously lacking.
The good news is that companies have already built the foundations, through long-term reductions in industrial emissions and CO2 from electricity by switching from coal to gas while expanding renewables. Yet tackling the climate emergency needs further and faster action than ever before.
We need to grow supplies of low-carbon electricity, rapidly reduce transport emissions, and make progress on decarbonising heat in our homes, business and industry.
That is not a change any business or individual can make on their own. So tonight’s debate needs to tackle these issues head-on, with politicians building cross-party consensus and articulating how society can practically make the changes required.
Let’s begin by building on what works, like contracts for offshore wind driving down prices to record low levels. All told, a four-fold increase in low-carbon electricity is needed to power our economy, together with progress on new nuclear, onshore wind, and other renewables. We already have the solutions — we just need to build them.
The 2020s also require a transport revolution. Shifting to electric vehicles is already underway and will accelerate through the coming decade. The next government can help by better coordinating the roll-out of rapid electric vehicle chargers, so people have confidence in switching to cleaner cars.
We also need to get serious on heat, with plans to replace the UK’s 24m gas boilers with more sustainable and energy efficient solutions such as heat pumps and hydrogen boilers.
However, achieving real progress will require an honest conversation between the public, government and business about changes we all need to make. Central to success will be supporting jobs and livelihoods of people affected by the transition, including reskilling and reducing energy and travel costs for struggling families.
The business community backs this approach and is a crucial part of the solution. Creating new technologies means that we can cut our carbon emissions, improving our environment and ending the injustice of poor air quality.
Remember that there are also huge economic opportunities in the global shift to a low-carbon future. We can lead on new technologies, including carbon capture and hydrogen energy, and export these products and services around the world.
The deadline of hosting the UN COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow next November should kickstart the UK’s net-zero plans and spur us to work with other countries on this global challenge. I hope to hear more on the various parties’ plans towards this goal in tonight’s debate.
This is a watershed moment. It’s time for all of society to step up.