Tory leadership race: Teenager not impressed with climate answers

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image captionErin is 15 and a climate change campaigner

The five Conservative leadership contenders have been challenged on climate change by a Scottish teenager.

During the debate broadcast on BBC One, climate striker Erin, 15, asked the candidates to commit to net zero carbon emissions by 2025.

Last week the UK government said it would cut emissions to almost zero by 2050.

None of the leadership hopefuls agreed to bring forward the deadline, and Erin said she was not impressed.

Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, Sajid Javid and Rory Stewart took questions from members of the public during the televised debate.

They are in the race to be the next leader of the Conservative party after Dominic Raab was earlier eliminated in the second round of voting.

Erin, who joined the broadcast from Glasgow, said she was asking her question on behalf of UK youth strikers, who walked out of school to raise awareness of climate change.

She said: "Can you promise that the environment will be your top priority if elected? Will you commit to net zero carbon emissions by 2025?"

Emily Maitlis, who chaired the debate, asked for a show of hands from those who would agree to the 2025 deadline - but there were none.

Compare the candidates' policies

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Jeremy Hunt
Foreign Secretary

- Wants to leave with a deal, but says he would back a no-deal Brexit with "a heavy heart" if necessary. - Will create a new negotiating team to produce an "alternative exit deal" to Theresa May’s plan, and engage with EU leaders over August. - Will present a provisional no-deal Brexit budget in early September and decide by the end of the month if there is a "realistic chance" of a new deal. - If not, will abandon talks and focus on no deal preparations. - Pledges to cover the cost of tariffs imposed on the exports of the farming and fishing industries in the case of a no-deal Brexit.

Boris Johnson

- Vows to leave the EU by the 31 October deadline "come what may", but claims the chance of a no-deal Brexit is a "million to one". - Wants to negotiate a new deal, which will include replacing the Irish backstop with alternative arrangements. - Will not hand over the £39bn divorce settlement with the EU until the UK gets a new deal. - If a new deal is not agreed, will ask the EU for a "standstill period" to negotiate a free trade deal. - Argues a provision under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, known as GATT 24, could be used for the UK to avoid tariffs for the next 10 years, but admits it would need EU sign off. - Promises to support the rural community in a no-deal Brexit scenario with "price support" and "efficiency payments".


Jeremy Hunt
Foreign Secretary

- Calls for flexibility on immigration, saying skilled workers should be prioritised. - Wants to review policy of stopping migrants with less than £30,000 coming to the UK to work. - Pledges to scrap the target to reduce net migration to below 100,000.

Boris Johnson

- Wants a new Australian-style points-based system, considering factors such as whether an immigrant has a firm job offer and their ability to speak English. - Will get Migration Advisory Committee to examine the plan. - Wants to block the ability for immigrants to claim benefits immediately after the arrive in the UK. - Opposes the net migration target of under 100,000 a year.


Jeremy Hunt
Foreign Secretary

- As an entrepreneur, he wants to turn Britain into "the next Silicon Valley... a hub of innovation". - Wants to cut corporation tax to 12.5%. - Wants to raise the point at which workers start paying National Insurance to at least £12,000 a year. - Pledges to scrap business rates for 90% of high street shops. - Will increase the tax-free annual investment allowance from £1m to £5m.

Boris Johnson

- Pledges to raise the tax threshold for the higher rate to £80,000 (rather than the current £50,000). - Wants to raise the point at which workers start paying income tax. - Will review “unhealthy food taxes” such as sugar tax on soft drinks.


Jeremy Hunt
Foreign Secretary

- Wants to increase defence spending by £15bn over the next five years. - Promises to keep free TV licenses for the over-75s. - Wants to build 1.5 million homes and create a “right to own” scheme for young people. - Backs both HS2 and a third runway at Heathrow.

Boris Johnson

- Pledges more money for public sector workers and wants to increase the National Living Wage. - Will “find the money” to recruit an extra 20,000 police officers by 2022. - Promises to maintain spending 0.7% of GDP on Foreign Aid. - Wants to review the HS2 train project. - Pledges full fibre broadband in every home by 2025.

Health and social care

Jeremy Hunt
Foreign Secretary

- Promises more funding for social care. - Wants to introduce an opt out insurance system to fund future care, similar to the way pensions work. - Wants to target manufacturers of unhealthy foods to make them cut the sugar content. - Mental health support to be offered in every school and a crackdown on social media companies that fail to regulate their content.

Boris Johnson

- Rules out a pay-for-access NHS, saying it would remain "free to everybody at the point of use" under his leadership. - Has previously said money spent on the EU could be put into the NHS. - Plans to give public sector workers a "fair" pay rise, according to supporter Health Secretary Matt Hancock. - Says more should be spent on social care, according to a cross-party "national consensus".


Jeremy Hunt
Foreign Secretary

- Pledges to write off tuition fees for young entrepreneurs who start a new business and employ more than 10 people for five years. - Wants to reduce interest rates on student debt repayments. - Long-term plan to provide more funding for the teaching profession. - Wants to abolish illiteracy.

Boris Johnson

- Wants to raise per-pupil spending in primary and secondary schools, with a minimum of £5,000 for each student in the latter. - Wants to look at lowering the interest rate on student debts.

Rory Stewart said he was "deeply proud" of the new 2050 target and it was the most ambitious set by an advanced industrial economy.

He pointed out that, as international development secretary, he has said he wants to double the amount spent on climate and the environment.

And he said the UK has "fantastic resources" in the North Sea for carbon capture and storage, and for offshore wind.

"I would like to make us the leader in the world in driving green and environmental change," he added.

Michael Gove, who has met leading activist Greta Thunberg, praised climate strikers for raising awareness of environmental issues - but added "even though I think folk should be in school".

As environment secretary, he said: "I've introduced a 25-year environment plan to ensure that we help increase the amount of energy that is generated by renewables but also that we do everything from restoring the habitats - the trees and forests which act as carbon sinks - to making sure that we rid our air of the pollution that is choking the lungs of young people, and also rid our seas of the plastic which is a scourge."

He told Erin: "As environment secretary, I have one of the best jobs in the world because I can do everything I can to make sure that your generation get a cleaner and greener planet."

Meanwhile Boris Johnson was challenged on plans to expand Heathrow airport, of which he has been a vocal opponent in the past.

He said he continues to have great reservations about building a third runway for reasons of air quality and noise pollution.

And on the broader issue of the environment, he pointed to his record as London mayor.

He said that the city's population increased by 200,000 over about eight years, but CO2 emissions were cut thanks to the use of technology.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt welcomed Erin's challenge to be ambitious with the government's environmental goals.

Electric cars

"The question is not whether we're doing something, it's whether we're doing enough," he said.

"It's a fundamental matter of trust between teenagers and all of us here who are in our 40s and 50s, as to whether young people can actually trust the next generation."

Home Secretary Sajid Javid admitted that he gets similar questions from his 16-year-old daughter.

"We have done quite a few things over the last few years... but nowhere near enough," he added.

"We have to be a lot more ambitious especially in terms of renewable energy, in terms of helping people to buy electric cars, also to charge electric cars, so we can be ambitious, and at the same time create a lot more jobs and be a world leader."

image copyrightAFP/ JEFF OVERS-BBC

However, Erin said none of the contenders "really impressed" her.

"Climate change isn't an issue of tomorrow, it's an issue of today and we need to create drastic, critical action and I don't think any of you are willing to offer that," she said.

The Conservative leadership race will continue on Wednesday, with a third ballot of party of MPs.

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