24 Oct 2019

Even against the increasingly choppy waters of Brexit, one theme continues to build momentum. From Extinction Rebellion’s rolling protests and the ‘Attenborough effect’ to the UK Government pulling together its Presidency goals for COP 26, climate change is firmly back on the agenda and rising in public consciousness. 

Net zero messaging was prominent at both Labour and Conservative Conferences. Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng even declared in a fringe that the 2050 legal economy-wide target represented one of “the few strategic goals” of Government, and officials are looking to frame net zero opportunities as part of a positive post-Brexit economic narrative. 

In a game of target one-upmanship, Labour Conference supported a 2030 target – potentially alienating the trade unions who fear the jobs and skills impact of a rapid transition. Even Green Alliance’s positive response included a caution to Labour that focused near-term plans of action are more valuable than end dates.  In response, Labour have been keen to stress in the new ‘Thirty by 2030’ report that the work needed for this energy transformation would generate 850,000 new jobs across the green energy sector” and that they would liaise closely with relevant trade unions to deliver the plan. 

MPs from across the parties outside the energy and environment space have anecdotally said that the climate debate and opportunities of net zero are “light relief” in postbags and inboxes which are otherwise saturated by Brexit.  

This has been reflected in a simultaneous rise in MP commentary on these issues. 

This peaking of parliamentary social media activity tied directly into periods of Extinction Rebellion activity – and the summer adoption of the net zero target by Government. Interestingly, the surge in activity is largely driven by an increase in Labour MP engagement on the issue. 

Our analysis also highlighted a shift in the language of the climate debate over the last year:  

  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, ‘zero carbon’ has overtaken ‘low carbon’ in online discussion. Commitment to decarbonisation solutions is expected to be wholehearted. 
  • Net zero 2030, 2035, or 2040 are emerging with increasing prominence against discussions on net zero 2050 – largely driven by Labour’s new position. 
  • The language of ‘green industrial revolution and ‘just transition is emerging to overtake the green jobs narrative as greater focus is given to reskilling and preparing industrial heartlands for a new landscape. 

The pressures of continued climate protests and next November’s COP26 (on home turf in Glasgow) mean that whoever finds themselves in No 10 will need to set a meaningful framework for businesses to begin to plan and innovate to meet the legally binding net zero target. And based on current trends, the political debate on the issue doesn’t look like it’s going to let up either.

Alison Woodhouse is Hanover’s Net Zero Analysis Lead.