Conservative climate change sceptics are "eccentrics" who will not be allowed to influence the party's environmental policy, an ally of David Cameron insisted yesterday.
Tim Yeo, the former environment minister, criticised David Davis for writing that targets for cutting carbon emissions were “destined to collapse”, and dismissed the former shadow Home Secretary as having “no authority on this subject”.
Mr Yeo, who now chairs the Commons Environmental Audit Committee, hit back at Tory critics of Mr Cameron’s stance on green issues and predicted that climate change sceptics will have disappeared in five years.
Mr Yeo said: “A significant number of core Conservative voters – mostly among older people – are reluctant to accept the [climate change] evidence. I don’t think they [doubting Tory MPs] will be a significant influence in the next parliament and will gradually diminish in the population.
“The dying gasps of the deniers will be put to bed. In five years time, no one will argue about [there being] a man-made contribution to climate change.”
He declared that Mr Cameron would head a “green” government after the general election and would not water down his commitment to the environment.
Mr Davis yesterday called for a new “middle way” approach to global warming in an article in The Independent which highlighted Tory divisions ahead of next week’s crucial Copenhagen summit.
In the Commons, Gordon Brown made a thinly-veiled attack on Mr Davis. He said intermediate targets that major countries were set to propose should be “sufficiently ambitious” to achieve at least a 50 per cent cut in global carbon emissions by 2050. He added: “I hope that despite doubts expressed from some parts of the Opposition, that there will be all-party support for that deal.”
Labour challenged Tory sceptics to reveal whether they had financial links to the oil industry. It claimed that two of the most prominent Tory doubters, the former Cabinet ministers Lord Lawson of Blaby and Peter Lilley, had such links.
Lord Lawson has “significant shareholdings” in the Central Europe Trust, whose clients include Total Fina Elf, Royal Dutch/Shell Group, Texaco, and BP Amaco. He is also chairman of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, whose “primary purpose is to help restore balance and trust in the climate debate that is frequently distorted by prejudice and exaggeration”. The group shares a London office with the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining.
Mr Lilley is a non-executive director of Tethys Petroleum Limited, an oil and gas exploration company.
There is no suggestion that their actions in Parliament were influenced by their business interest and Tory sources said the two former ministers had a long track record of questioning the science of climate change.
Labour MP Emily Thornberry MP said: “Behind David Cameron’s photo-ops on the arctic ice, the Tory Party hasn’t changed – climate change deniers, big oil men and non-doms can still happily take high profile positions.
“Nigel Lawson and Peter Lilley have vocally denied the danger posed by climate change; both appear to have lucrative links to the oil industry. I am writing to both Lord Lawson and Peter Lilley to ask them to clarify whether their connections to the oil industry have any bearing on their statements in Parliament and the media.”
Mr Yeo said: “David Davis is not an authority on this subject. If he says something about immigration or policing, we might need to pay some attention to that.”
He added: “We need some sort of spur for action. Although targets are far from perfect, they are a necessary part of that. We also need emissions and trading and performance standards for power stations and car engines. But without them [targets] there would not be enough pressure on governments, businesses and individuals.”
In a report yesterday, the all-party committee said the emissions cuts to be discussed in Copenhagen still only give the world a 50- 50 chance of avoiding dangerous levels of climate change. Negotiators should aim for more stringent cuts, it said.
Ed Miliband MP, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, said: “The true face of the Tory party is on show. No amount of riding around with huskies can conceal the fact that the Conservative Party has closed its ears to the science. David Cameron might cycle for the cameras – but his party is chugging off in the other direction in a fleet of gas guzzlers.”