Andrea Leadsom has said she would declare a climate emergency if she became prime minister.
The former Commons leader was responding to a leaked warning from the Chancellor that shifting to a zero-carbon economy would cost £1 trillion, and the UK was not on track to meet its carbon reduction targets.
Mrs Leadsom, one of 11 declared candidates in the Tory leadership race officially starting on Monday, told the House magazine that tackling climate change was a “massive opportunity” for the UK to “lead the world”.
She said: “For me, a very big headline policy would be to declare a climate emergency, to say that the UK is going to lead the world in this area in the same way that we lead the world in financial services.
“This is a massive opportunity to demonstrate that, far from decarbonising being a loss of GDP, loss of jobs and so on and so on, actually the clean growth technology sector is fast-growing, and it can be an opportunity for new jobs, new skills, a way to get young people energised to decarbonise our economy.”
Rather than focusing on the immediate cost to the Treasury, Mrs Leadsom said dealing with global warming had the potential to become a bigger industry than the UK’s new financial services sector.
She said: “With my background in financial services… I can see tackling the climate emergency, dealing with global warming, is something that could be as big if not bigger than the whole financial services sector.
“Actually, the UK is in pole position to be able to take on that challenge and run with it. So, it has huge economic potential for the UK.”
The MP for South Northamptonshire said she would set up a Cabinet sub-committee to work alongside the Committee on Climate Change to plot a route to full decarbonisation for the UK by 2050.
But Mrs Leadsom said she would also look at what the UK could do to support decarbonisation in developing countries, using a “proportion” of overseas development aid.
She also revealed plans for an industrial strategy focusing on the renewable energy sector, citing the “extraordinary growth” in wind and solar technology and “huge moves” in battery technology.
“The UK is half the world’s deployed offshore wind,” she said. “There is a huge amount to be done there.
“So, the UK can lead the world in that and actually expand our economy at the same time.”
The UK should also pitch to host the 2020 UN climate change summit, Mrs Leadsom said, to “demonstrate global leadership”.
She said: “One of the things that says the UK is taking its place on the world stage – as we often do, we are tackling one of the biggest challenges facing the world.”