The UK must prioritise growth in "green industries" such as energy efficiency and renewable energy, David Cameron said on Monday. The remarks are likely to antagonise those Tory MPs who have campaigned for cuts to green energy subsidies and the watering down of climate targets.

The prime minister has come under fire from environmentalists for a perceived lack of leadership on environmental issues, with the chief executive of WWF UK, David Nussbaum, warning in November "he seems to have lost his voice" and that his "continued silence would be a betrayal not just of election promises, but of the UK national interest." Last week, former US vice president Al Gore said he was "worried there are influences in his party that have backed him [Cameron] off [action on climate change]."

But speaking at the low-profile launch of an energy efficiency programme on Monday, Cameron said that "to those who say we just can't afford to prioritise green energy right now, my view is we can't afford not to".

He said the "green deal" loan scheme launched in January, which has attracted criticism for high interest rates and upfront fees, would cut carbon emissions and bills, and create jobs.

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