UK climate minister Sharma hints at resignation as Tory race heats up

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Britain’s climate minister, who emotionally steered a UN summit to a deal last year, has threatened to quit as some of the contenders to become Conservative leader equivocate on the government’s net zero target.

The legally enshrined target to achieve net carbon emissions by 2050 has been questioned by four of the five remaining candidates to succeed Prime Minister Boris Johnson, citing the costs when Britain is tackling a cost-of-living crisis.

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Heading into a second TV debate by the candidates on Sunday evening, only former finance minister Rishi Sunak has vowed to stick by the target and by “green levies” to help pay for it.

COP26 president Alok Sharma told Sunday’s Observer newspaper that it was “absolutely a leadership issue,” as Britain and Europe face a record-breaking heatwave this weekend.

“Anyone aspiring to lead our country needs to demonstrate that they take this issue incredibly seriously, that they’re willing to continue to lead and take up the mantle that Boris Johnson started off,” the climate minister said.

Asked if he could resign if candidates showed weakness on net zero, Sharma said: “Let’s see, shall we? I think we need to see where the candidates are. And we need to see who actually ends up in Number 10 (Downing Street).”

Under Sharma’s chairmanship in Glasgow, nearly 200 countries last November pledged to speed up the fight against rising temperatures, after two weeks of marathon negotiations.

But India and China weakened the language of the final text to retain high-polluting coal, forcing tears and an exasperated apology from Sharma as he brought down the gavel.

Among the other Conservative candidates, former junior minister Kemi Badenoch has said net zero amounts to “unilateral economic disarmament” by Britain.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and grassroots favorite Penny Mordaunt have both called for a rethink of the green levies brought in by Sunak when he was finance minister.

Asked about Sharma’s threat, Truss supporter and former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith told Sky News: “I’m sorry he feels that.”

Truss still backs the principle of net zero but “we have to just put that slightly on the back burner whilst we make sure people don't suffer” from surging inflation, he said.

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