The argument over the £28 billion price tag for Labour’s green prosperity plan is “sterile and irrelevant”, the former net-zero tsar has said.

Former Conservative MP Chris Skidmore, who quit Parliament in protest at Government plans to expand oil and gas production, said on Thursday that it was more important to focus on long-term commitments and outcomes than pledges to spend a specific figure.

He said: “I would like to see, at the centre, a sense of stability, and that’s where the £28 billion is, I think, a sterile debate.

“It’s more important about getting that commitment into the 2030s than the actual pounds and pence on the page.”

Mr Skidmore made his comments during a speech in central London calling for supporters of net zero to be more vocal in 2024, just as Labour prepared to announce it was rowing back from a commitment to spend £28 billion per year on green projects.

He said: “2024 must be a year in which, regardless of our mainstream political differences, those who are serious about the future of the UK, who want to provide hope and reassurance that the future can be better than the present, and certainly better than the past, must step up to deliver their messages in ways that can clearly communicate and cut through.

“Labour’s plan for a green mission, for instance, has been trapped in a sterile and irrelevant media debate over a £28 billion figure.

“It doesn’t seem to matter that the current Government, if you add up all the various spending commitments from £11 billion on offshore wind announced at Cop28, to £20 billion on CCUS (caron capture, utilisation and storage) over 20 years, to an additional £6 billion for a Great British insulation scheme, has probably also committed to a similar amount of spending.”

Labour business event
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is expected to announce his party is rowing back on its £28 billion green spending pledge (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

He went on to say that it was “not a time for green hushing”, but instead called for environmentalists to “loudly proclaim” the opportunities provided by net zero and the risk that delaying would “cost jobs and growth that could have been ours”.

Mr Skidmore said 2024 could be “one of the most important years” for net zero in the UK, with both the general election and local elections taking place over the coming months.

He said: “Elections are won by parties setting out what they stand for, not by those parties that simply shout what they are against.

“Elections are won by the party that voters believe will deliver a vision of hope, how life in Britain can be improved, made better, by those who are not content with the status quo.

“And there is, in my mind, no better opportunity for all political parties to demonstrate hope for a better Britain than in embracing the benefits that net zero can bring.”

Thursday also brought reports from the EU’s climate service that the past 12 months had seen global temperatures rise by 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, exceeding for the first time the long-term target set by the Paris Agreement in 2015.