MPs with a history of casting doubt on climate science and opposing green policies are poised for cabinet positions under Tory leadership favourite Liz Truss, prompting fears over the UK’s climate ambitions.
They include former Margaret Thatcher advisor, John Redwood, who has accused the BBC of “peddling climate alarmism” and Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg, who has downplayed humans’ impact on the climate.
Current polling strongly favours Truss beating ex-Chancellor Rishi Sunak in the race to become the next prime minister. Around 160,000 Party members will decide on who will replace Boris Johnson on 5 September, with voting due to start next week.
Truss’s green credentials have already come under scrutiny, and at a leadership hustings in Exeter this week, she promised to “exploit all the gas in the North Sea” and suspend green levies on energy bills, claiming “our fields shouldn’t be full of solar panels”.
Her top team looks likely to include MPs with an extensive record of downplaying the need for urgent climate action, according to reports.
It comes as the latest polling by Ipsos showed that 84 percent of the British public were greatly concerned about climate change, with more than half “very concerned”.
Wera Hobhouse MP, Liberal Democrat climate change and energy spokesperson, said the potential lineup was “extremely worrying” and leadership contenders were “burying their heads in the sand” about the climate crisis.
“The extreme heatwaves which caused huge disruption across the country were a stark warning of the dangers of climate change. Packing the cabinet with climate change deniers and delayers will do nothing but hugely damage the UK’s climate commitments,” she added.
Shaun Spiers, executive director of the Green Alliance think-tank, said MPs like Redwood and Rees-Mogg were “living in a fantasy world”, and warned that electing them would undermine the credibility of the Conservatives.
The early stages of the Consevative leadership race were marked by candidates flip-flopping over the UK’s net zero target, as wildfires and drought from extreme temperatures caused climate change to re-enter the public debate.
None of those who have so far been tipped for Truss’s cabinet are among the 21 MPs to have publicly backed the Net Zero Scrutiny Group (NZSG), a caucus of Tory backbenchers that formed last year to oppose many of the government’s net zero policies. However, many have expressed deep misgivings about policies to achieve the target and may still belong to the loose grouping.
Redwood, a former advisor to Margaret Thatcher, has described government measures to tackle global warming as “radical” and defended climate sceptics as misunderstood. Kemi Badenoch and Suella Braverman, who both criticised the UK’s net zero target earlier in the leadership contest, are also reported to be in the running for top jobs.
John Redwood, who is mooted as a potential Treasury minister under Truss, recently dubbed the BBC a “net zero campaign organisation”, having previously described the institution as “peddling climate alarmism”.
In July, he tweeted that leadership candidates should not support shutting down “fossil fuel using industry” in the UK, saying this would “cripple” the economy.
During the recent heatwave, which saw temperatures reach 41C and the Met Office issue an extreme red weather alert, he criticised people for complaining about the “hot weather”.
In 2020, Redwood defended the right of climate “sceptics” to argue that “climate models do not capture the complexities of greenhouse gases” and argued that “natural CO2 exceeds manmade and that could vary in either direction”.
As recently as last year, Redwood implied that he personally did not fully believe in human-caused climate change, commenting on his blog: “Governments believe there is a serious manmade climate problem created by greenhouse gas production”, and describing their measures as “radical”.
‘Medieval’ Wind Power
Jacob Rees-Mogg, Brexit opportunities minister and a likely contender for another government position, cast doubt in 2017 on humans’ ability to change the climate, calling efforts to cut emissions “unrealistic” and “unaffordable”.
Earlier this year, he called for the UK to resume fracking, a drilling technology used for extracting oil and natural gas from rocks deep underground. In April, he warned of the “huge cost” of net zero, ignoring the social and economic implications of not acting.
David Frost, the UK’s former chief Brexit negotiator, has been tipped as Truss’s future chief of staff. The Tory peer has repeatedly called for the UK’s fracking ban to be lifted and recently called for a fundamental rethink of net zero, criticising “the mad dash for medieval wind power technology”.
David Canzini, a political advisor to Boris Johnson and ally of Lynton Crosby who is reported to have been a key figure opposing a windfall tax on fossil fuel companies, is also likely to remain in post.
Not all of the politicians reportedly favoured by Truss to form her government have poor environmental records, however.
Simon Clarke’s appointment as chief secretary to the Treasury last year was welcomed by some environmentalists, having been recognised as “Britain’s greenest MP” by the Climate Coalition in 2019 for his efforts in securing the UK’s 2050 net zero goal.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng backs the government’s net zero target and has said climate change should be tackled with a “sense of urgency”. However, he also has thrown his full support behind further oil and gas extraction in the North Sea and faced criticism for disproportionate meetings with fossil fuel producers during his time in office.
Penny Mordaunt, who came third in the leadership contest and is also tipped for a cabinet position along with Clarke and Kwarteng, has said she would back the 2050 target, though she has received funding from a number of donors with links to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, the UK’s most prominent climate science denial group.
‘Turning Back the Clock’
The appointment of “dyed-in-the-wool climate sceptics” would undermine the Conservative party’s green credentials, Shaun Spiers of the Green Alliance told DeSmog.
Spiers said these MPs were trailing behind a “decarbonising world” and that selecting them for cabinet would “turn back the clock” to a time before the UK’s 2008 climate legislation.
“The Conservatives are historically an election-winning machine,” he said. “They know that they can’t have a serious government with them in the cabinet.”
“The main challenge is for Liz Truss to be briefed properly on climate change, the way Boris Johnson was through [Chief Scientific Advisor] Patrick Vallance.”
Rees-Mogg and Redwood did not respond to requests for comment. Liz Truss’s office also did not respond.