Chris Skidmore MP has urged the UK to move "further and faster" in the global race to net zero - or risk falling behind.
Mr Skidmore, Chair of the Independent Government Review on Net Zero told an audience at the UKREiiF conference in Leeds: "This is the only game in town and the greatest economic opportunity of this decade if not this century.
"We risk falling behind. The cost of inaction is now so great.
"We are in a global net zero race where other countries recognise the opportunity not just of seeing net zero as a tool for tackling the climate crisis but seeing economic opportunity it provides."
Mr Skidmore, who was Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research when he signed the UK’s net zero pledge into law, published his Mission Zero report in January in which he warned politicians were failing to act quickly enough on the climate emergency.
His report contained 129 recommendations across key sectors including renewable energy, green finance, and the built environment.
Mr Skidmore was speaking today at the UK Business Council for Sustainable Development’s Beyond Net Zero pavilion on the third and final day of the conference.
He said it was vital to see net zero as "above all an opportunity" rather than a challenge, adding: "We need to move faster, we need to move further."
Mr Skidmore paid tribute to a new report, commissioned by UKBCSD, which found the UK could achieve £70bn of annual economic benefits by adopting an ambitious "beyond net zero" strategy.
The UK could become a net exporter of up to £17bn of clean energy every year, the report found.
"That is a fantastic vision to look at," said Mr Skidmore.
"But in order to achieve it we have to tackle barriers.
"We need to push further around ensuring net zero is mainstreamed into every institution, into our planning system, so that it becomes the new normal.
"We need a 'whole society' approach."
Mr Skidmore called for the UK to take a longer-term, more strategic approach to net zero, rather than planning around traditional government spending cycles.
And he said net zero could play a vital role in the levelling up agenda by placing "industries of the future [in places] that led the industries of the past".
In order do so, however, he said policy makers and industry had to take local communities with them on the journey.
"We can't simply impose net zero on communities that see it as threatening their way of lives," he said.
"We have to make the case: they will be warmer and richer through year-on-year savings."
Mr Skidmore warned against focusing only on the government's target of hitting net zero by 2050, warning it would fail to do so unless it took action now.
"The net zero clock is literally ticking," he said. "The consequences of delay will be that we fail."
Mr Skidmore said it was impossible for the UK to compete in a "subsidy war" with the USA.
But he said the UK could benefit from the USA's recent huge investments in clean technologies, through the Inflation Reduction Act - for example by exporting technologies and expertise.
"There is a real opportunity to create a green special relationship," he said.
The pavilion had earlier seen an early-morning keynote address by Caroline Norbury, CEO of Creative UK, on the importance of building investible, place-based and community-driven cities.
She spoke of the importance of creativity and how culture was central to everything that cities did.
The day's first panel session - chaired by Bradford Council leader Susan Hinchcliffe - featured Lorraine Cox, Creative Assets Manager of Creative Estuary; Simon Delahunty-Forrest, Assistant Director for Development Planning at Birmingham Council; and James Pitt, MD for Yorkshire and North East at Muse.
Mr Delahunty-Forrest said cities needed to be "bold" to bring in investment and make sure local communities felt involved and empowered to express their own creativity.
He said cities needed to continually evolve and adapt, adding: "If my city looks the same as it does today in five, ten, 15 years then we have failed."
The late-morning panel session focused on how Bradford was using culture as an economic driver after being named City of Culture for 2025.
The panel featured Kersten England, Chief Executive of Bradford Council; Dan Bates, Executive Director of Bradford 2025; Caroline Norbury; and Nicola Greenan, Head of Cultural Partnerships at Bradford Council.
Nicola Greenan explained that Bradford’s decision to bid to become UK City of Culture was part of their 10-year culture strategy which aims to create a long-term, sustainable cultural legacy for culture in Bradford.
Bradford also embedded the UN Sustainable Development Goals into their bid to become UK City of Culture for 2025.
As part of this they are going to invest into decarbonisation plans in the cultural sector.