The dust has barely settled on the Conservative Party leadership race and the new UK government has already begun confirming many climate campaigners’ worst fears about the direction Liz Truss intends to take the country in.
Her energy secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg this week announced that the UK’s zombie fracking industry would be resurrected, despite a much-awaited report saying that there was still “limited” understanding of the UK’s shale gas reserves and the impacts of extracting them, with earthquake forecasting remaining a “scientific challenge”.
There are also rumours Truss could break a campaign promise not to press ahead with drilling projects without local community consent.
Add to that a huge round of new licences for North Sea oil and gas extraction – and no further windfall taxes on energy companies making bumper profits – and it’s clear the former Shell manager has few qualms about going all-out for fossil fuels.
Temporarily putting her small-state philosophy to one side, the former foreign secretary has said she’ll splurge tens of billions to shelter billpayers from sky-high energy prices – providing welcome relief for households but reducing the incentive for people to cut back consumption, thereby making the UK’s energy supply more vulnerable.
That’s not to say there aren’t some green glimmers to be found, though. Truss’s campaign promise to scrap environmental levies on bills turned out to be more bark than bite.
The government will now simply be covering them through general taxation – a fairer approach, many would argue.
The “mini-budget” also surprised many, with the effective ban on onshore wind lifted and further funding for insulation announced (though well below what experts say is needed).
Even the fracking push may end up a damp squib, curtailed by technical problems, environmental damage, and opposition from both local communities and Tory MPs (including some ministers).
She’s also announced a “net zero review” to find the most cost-effective ways to reach the UK’s 2050 target, led by one of the greenest Tories there is – Chris Skidmore.
What action that actually leads to, only time will tell.
Judging by Truss’s ties to climate science denial, the team of advisors she’s surrounded herself with, and the money that flowed into her leadership campaign, climate advocates have reason to be more than a little concerned.
But what about her new cabinet? Who will be trying to push the government in a greener direction? And who definitely won’t?
Jacob Rees-Mogg – Business and Energy Secretary
Back in 2014, Rees-Mogg said: “I would like my constituents to have cheap energy rather more than I would like them to have windmills.”
Insisting on calling wind turbines “windmills” isn’t the only thing he has in common with former U.S. President Donald Trump. In the same interview, he falsely claimed the UN’s expert climate body, the IPCC, had said cutting emissions “would have no effect for hundreds or possibly a thousand years”.
Rees-Mogg was also the first cabinet minister to endorse the campaign to reverse the UK’s ban on fracking, spearheaded by the backbench Net Zero Scrutiny Group (NZSG), the parliamentary wing of the UK’s principal climate science denial group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF).
In April, he warned of the “huge regulatory cost” of the UK’s net zero target, and the same month said that the UK needs to be “thinking about extracting every last cubic inch of gas from the North Sea”.
There are question marks over whether he stands to gain financially from any of these policies. Rees-Mogg was previously referred to the parliamentary standards watchdog for failing to declare in debates that his investment firm, Somerset Capital Management, held shares worth around £3 million in mining firms, £2.4 million in oil and gas producers, and £23 million in tobacco companies, according to the Independent.
Suella Braverman – Home Secretary
Former Attorney General Suella Braverman was probably the most vocal in her opposition to climate action during the Tory leadership race, vowing to “suspend the all-consuming desire to achieve Net Zero by 2050”.
That’s despite her own website stating that “climate change is one of the most serious threats that this country and the world faces”.
Her campaign was run by the leading opponent of green policies in parliament, Steve Baker, who last week stepped down from his position as trustee of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) to become a junior Northern Ireland minister.
And she has a more direct tie to the GWPF, too: her leadership bid was partly funded by a £10,000 donation from a company owned by Terence Mordaunt, who chaired the charity between 2019 and 2021.
Braverman’s Head of Communications David Scullion is deputy political editor of The Critic magazine, which regularly publishes articles attacking climate action by Craig Mackinlay, a Conservative backbencher who runs the NZSG with Baker. The Critic, which has received funding from Tory donor Jeremy Hosking, a financier who has millions invested in fossil fuels and has backed various climate science-denying politicians, produced a podcast last year criticising net zero, featuring Baker and Scullion.
Kemi Badenoch – Trade Secretary
The former equalities minister was another outspoken critic of UK climate action in the leadership contest, calling the country’s net zero target “unilateral economic disarmament”.
She maintains that “it was wrong of us to set a target without having a clear plan of the cost and knowing what it would entail”. Badenoch has insisted she does “believe in climate change”, but said “there is a better way of going about these things.”
She managed to perform a double U-turn on her climate views on the same day during the contest, which is quite a feat.
Last year, she went along to a Conservative Party fundraiser with a ticket generously covered by Australian hedge fund manager Michael Hintze, who happens to be one of the few known donors to the UK’s principal climate science denial group, the GWPF – and has been rumoured to be in the running for a Conservative peerage.
Nadhim Zahawi – Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
The UK’s short-lived finance minister, who has now become a different kind of chancellor – running the royal Duchy of Lancaster and being second-in-command to the prime minister in the Cabinet Office – has been about as embedded within the oil industry as you can get.
Zahawi earned £1.3 million from a Kurdish oil company while serving as an MP, has advised fossil fuel companies operating in Nigeria and Canada, and recently defended “struggling” producers in the North Sea.
Zahawi’s connections have come under media scrutiny in recent years as several of the companies he has advised have faced various fraud and corruption allegations, one leading to a jail sentence. None overlapped with Zahawi’s time with the firms, though, and he has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
At the start of the year, Zahawi defended North Sea oil and gas companies and rejected Labour’s call for a windfall tax, later adopted by the government in a more industry-friendly form.
Going further back, a North Sea oil boss gave him a donation in 2017 to help with his general election campaign.
And going further back than that, he was among the Tory rebels who pushed for the government to stop backing onshore wind in 2012.
The main green initiative Zahawi appears to have been praised for was his launch of a “Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy” to make schools greener, including a new Natural History GCSE exam, earlier this year while he was education secretary.
Chris Heaton-Harris – Northern Ireland Secretary
Heaton-Harris, while Europe minister earlier this year, said in an official video that the world needed to “go further and faster if we are to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change”.
In the message, addressed to the advisory council of the Southern Gas Corridor initiative, which brings gas into Europe from Asia, he said the “cleanest fossil fuel” had “served us well” but would “not serve the interests or wellbeing of our children or our grandchildren”.
But the former Brexit minister and chair of the hardline European Research Group of Tory MPs can rightly claim to have done more than any other backbencher to block further onshore wind developments in the UK.
During the coalition government, he orchestrated opposition to government planning policy friendly to wind farm projects, co-leading a campaign called Together Against Wind. According to the Guardian, he wrote a manual that was a “step by step guide on opposing a windfarm in your area”.
An undercover investigation by Greenpeace in 2012 caught him boasting that he was working to write opposition to wind energy “into the DNA of the Tory Party” and campaign against the UK’s climate goals. He also said he’d suggested that James Delingpole, a former Telegraph columnist and longtime climate science denier, stand against him in a by-election in order to push the issue of wind energy onto the political agenda.
The same week, video footage emerged showing Heaton-Harris arguing that wind turbines were harmful to birds, using evidence he admitted he hadn’t actually read.
In an article for the Conservative Home website, he wrote that “more and more countries” were understanding that there is a “simple choice between subsidising expensive renewable energy sources, like onshore wind or economic growth. They are all choosing growth. So should we.”
In 2015, he tweeted that he was “v pleased” that the government was making it virtually impossible for wind farms to be built, calling the technology “intermittent, expensive and constantly backed up by gas turbines”.
Kwasi Kwarteng – Chancellor
Kwarteng has backed the government’s net zero target and said climate change should be tackled with a “sense of urgency”.
His time as business and energy secretary was marked by his support for an “all of the above” strategy, backing renewables, fossil fuels and nuclear.
Previously an avowed free marketeer, having written the controversial “Britannia Unchained” book with Liz Truss and others, colleagues say he “underwent a conversion at BEIS, becoming convinced of the need for intervention and the potential for clean energy”, according to the Guardian.
He has been critical of fracking, downplaying its potential in the Mail on Sunday.
He argued it would “take up to a decade to extract sufficient volumes”, “come at a high cost for communities and our precious countryside” and would not be enough to “lower the European price any time soon”.
In the run-up to COP26 last year, he said people wouldn’t have to pay more to go green and reportedly pushed for an expansion of the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) scheme to pay for home energy efficiency improvements for the poorest households, blocked by then Chancellor Rishi Sunak, according to the Telegraph.
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.
In May, the Independent reported that Kwarteng wanted gas to be classified as “green” to entice investors and drew the ire of campaigners when he misleadingly claimed they wanted to shut down domestic fossil fuel production.
Anne-Marie Trevelyan – Transport Secretary
When Trevelyan was promoted to trade secretary last year, tweets she sent between 2010 and 2012 expressing climate science denial came to light. Labour criticised her for claiming that “the ice caps aren’t melting after all” and that “global warming isn’t actually happening”.
Other tweets reveal her views at the time on renewable alternatives to fossil fuels.
In 2015, she said fracking was “good for UK economy, self sufficient energy needs & environment”.
Nevertheless, by 2020, Trevelyan appeared to have warmed to the green agenda. When she was appointed Boris Johnson’s climate adaptation and resilience champion, she said the UK was meeting its net zero target “head on” with a “drive to renewables which takes us out of coal”.
Last year, she said net zero was a “shared endeavour”. “If we approach our next challenges with the same zeal that we tackled the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK will continue to lead the way forwards towards a sustainable future across the globe.”
She has also spoken favourably about electric vehicles and said in May that recent months had “highlighted the need to accelerate our journey as a global community away from hydrocarbons” and “decisively turn our backs on the era of dependence on polluting fuels”.
However, Trevelyan’s time as BEIS minister in 2021 was praised by Oil & Gas UK, the industry body, whose CEO Deirdre Michie said Trevelyan had been “working with us so closely and effectively, especially in relation to the North Sea Transition Deal”. The deal allows for new offshore oil and gas developments and its “climate compatibility” test, announced this week, only relates to production emissions, not those created by burning the fuels.
Simon Clarke – Levelling Up/Housing Secretary
Clarke has a reputation as being on the environmental wing of the Conservative Party, having been named “Britain’s Greenest MP” at The Climate Coalition’s Green Heart Hero Awards in March 2019.
He has strongly supported the government’s net zero target. In February 2022, the Independent quoted Clarke’s argument that “it would be positively irrational for us to resile from our net-zero commitments” in response to pressure from the Net Zero Scrutiny Group of anti-green MPs. He added: “There is no benefit either environmentally or economically to going backwards.”
In response to a tweet by Julia Hartley-Brewer which claimed that “‘climate catastrophe’ lunatics have forced their insane Net Zero policies on the rest of us”, Clarke hit back tweeting: “This is totally wrong. Delivering Net Zero is hugely important to prevent the devastating impact of climate change on drought and flood risk, migration flows and food security. It’s also the right thing for our economy and national security: good jobs and energy independence.”
In June 2022, Clarke delivered a speech during a House of Commons debate saying that a recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report was “really devastating”, noting the threats of sea level rise and biodiversity loss if global temperatures aren’t limited.
However, just a few months before, ahead of the release of the government’s energy strategy, Clarke supported increasing North Sea oil production saying: “We are determined to unlock more production in the North Sea. I can’t commit to specific fields, but certainly it is our intention to unlock more production capacity in the North Sea.”
In September 2022, he rejected calls for a windfall tax on oil and gas companies’ profits, arguing: “We need to go much, much further in getting new fields on line. That is why we need these companies to be ploughing that investment into the North Sea.”
In the same month, he refused to oppose lifting the ban on fracking, instead saying that fracking should be done “in the most sensitive way possible” by obtaining “community consent”.
Ranil Jayawardena – Environment Secretary
Jayawardena’s green credentials remain relatively unknown, despite being given the environment brief.
In his previous role as trade minister, Jayawardena called the UK a “global leader” in the pursuit of net zero.
He also pushed for a ban on trophy hunting imports, having founded a parliamentary group on endangered species.
In May this year, he expressed support for efforts to boost green industries as a way to “improve our energy security and help with the cost of living” by making the UK “less dependent on foreign oil and gas”.
“Tackling climate change and tackling the cost of living are linked more clearly than ever,” he said.
Nevertheless, climate campaigners will look at some of Jayawardena’s words and actions with concern.
He opposes windfall taxes on energy companies making big profits and appears to back both green and blue hydrogen, having given a keynote speech at a gas industry-run hydrogen conference in Canada earlier this year.
Farmers are also reportedly alarmed by his record of cutting trade deals that campaigners say prioritised cheap imports over animal welfare and food quality.
He also wrote in the Times in July claiming that Truss had made significant efforts to make COP26 a success – a claim contradicted by Politico reporting.
And then there’s his suggestion in August that there had been “some scaremongering” about energy bill rises, a statement that has aged like milk.
Chris Philp – Chief Secretary to the Treasury
The South Croydon MP has a fairly mixed stance on climate action – not particularly green, but particularly anti-green either.
In it, he defends the UK’s net zero ambitions, and when the radio host said it wasn’t possible to meet the target without damaging the economy and living standards, he said he wasn’t as “pessimistic as you on that” and that there was time to make sure the green transition was “not a painful one”.
However, he then went on to claim developing domestic sources of gas could help the UK reach net zero.
Earlier in the interview, Philp also said the UK needed to be “pumping more gas”, whether from the North Sea or by “looking again at fracking”.
The country could not be “reliant on importing gas which leaves us at the mercy of global markets”, he argued, despite declining reserves in the North Sea and prices being set by those same global markets. He made the same point in August.
Philp is also a big believer in nuclear energy, telling Hartley-Brewer that the UK should be “massively turbocharging the rollout” of new power stations “as a matter of urgency”. Nuclear is seen as a potentially crucial source of low-carbon energy in the medium- to long-term but has nothing to offer in the immediate future.
Brandon Lewis – Justice Secretary
Like Chris Philp, the former Northern Ireland secretary has nominally supported climate action while opposing some policies that would help the UK meet its targets.
In the run-up to COP26 last year, he tweeted that the UN climate talks were “our last, best chance to reach global agreement on the ambitious action we need to take on climate change”. At the time, he also touted plans to increase renewable energy across the UK, pointing to the offshore wind industry in his constituency of Great Yarmouth.
However, like Chris Heaton-Harris, he pushed for the government to cut subsidies for the UK’s fledgling wind industry in 2012, leaving the country more reliant on eye-wateringly expensive gas today.
And in May this year, he opposed a windfall tax on oil and gas industry profits, saying the policy – which his government later adopted – “doesn’t really work”.
That said, he’s not completely enamoured with fossil fuels, saying in 2016 that communities should have the right to reject shale gas developments in their local area.
Penny Mordaunt – Leader of the Commons
The former leadership contender appears to have a fairly ambivalent approach to climate change.
On the one hand, she has multiple ties to climate science deniers. Between 2019 and 2021, she received £20,000 from First Corporate Consultants, a management consultancy founded by Terence Mordaunt, then chair of the UK’s principal climate denial group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation and a relative of hers.
During the Conservative leadership contest, Mordaunt welcomed the endorsement of motoring lobbyist and climate science denier Howard Cox, tweeting that she was “glad to have the backing” of his Fair Fuel UK campaign, and pledging an “immediate” 50 percent cut in VAT on fuel. Cox said in his endorsement that he had known Mordaunt for 12 years and called her a “kindred spirit”.
In her role as trade minister, Mordaunt was involved in a controversial trade deal with Australia which saw the UK government eliminate key language about climate policy, the environment, and concerns about deforestation and pesticide use.
In spite of these links, Mordaunt emerged as one of the greener candidates in the leadership race, speaking in support of green energy investment and the creation of “millions of jobs” in the net zero transition.
“Investing in the domestic renewable energy sector reduces the UK’s reliance on fossil fuels like gas, which are exposed to volatile global prices,” she noted.
Mordaunt also pledged to reform European Union-era land subsidies “to encourage and support those who actively take steps to leave a cleaner, greener environment for the next generation”. “Sustainable farming for the longer term is an absolutely crucial part of how we, together, can protect our natural world.”
Jake Berry – Minister Without Portfolio
“Red Wall” MP and chair of the Northern Research Group of Tory MPs, Berry has expressed concerns about the cost of reaching net zero, arguing that communities such as the ones he represents “are least able to afford these changes that we are making”.
Nevertheless, he rejected calls earlier this year for a referendum on the UK’s 2050 net zero target and insisted there is widespread support for the ambition among his colleagues.
Michael Ellis – Attorney General
Ellis has indicated his support for climate action in a number of entries on his personal blog.
In 2019, he wrote that the UK “can be proud” of its “leading role in tackling climate change” and praised the “growing share of UK electricity produced by renewables”. He added that there was“much more still to do” and that the government “fully recognises the scale and urgency of this issue and is working hard to tackle climate change”.
Elsewhere on his blog, Ellis has also praised the growing share of UK electricity produced by renewables.
He tweeted recently of the need to “break our dependence on fossil fuels” and “protect consumers from high prices”.
Climate advocates may be concerned about his apparent enthusiasm for environmentally dubious biofuels and point to his failure to provide evidence in July on the country’s preparedness for extreme weather like the heatwave the UK was experiencing at the time.
James Cleverly – Foreign Secretary
Cleverly, a former education secretary and chair of the Conservative Party, has made a number of comments in support of climate action.
In 2019, he praised the UK for bringing in its 2050 net zero target and cutting emissions – the “fastest decline of any developed country”.
He won’t be popular with environmental protesters, however, having taken shots at them on several occasions.
In 2019, he called Extinction Rebellion activists “stupid” for spraying red paint on the Treasury, arguing that the action “totally undermine[s] the debate”, and another time slammed them for targeting public transport. He also mocked young “climate strikers” for taking days off school to protest about climate change.
Michelle Donelan – Culture Secretary
Donelan was elected as the MP for Chippenham in 2015, when she supported climate campaigners at a rally in London.
A relative newcomer to government, she took on her first ministerial post within the education department just over two years ago.
In March, she told MPs the department was committed to making schools more environmentally friendly, by “increasing insulation, better air tightness, green roofs and energy-generating solar panels, flood-resistant drainage systems and low carbon emissions”.
According to her website, she is committed to climate action, and mentions her support for green energy and electric cars, as well as her campaigning against plastic waste.
However, she has also opposed certain renewable energy projects, arguing in 2014 that a local village had had its “fair share” of solar.
She also supported the Conservatives’ decision to bring in an effective ban on onshore wind farms in 2015, tweeting ahead of the general election that the party would “give local residents powers to block new onshore wind farms”.
Allister Jack – Scotland Secretary
Jack, who remains as Scotland Secretary, has been a steadfast supporter of North Sea oil and gas expansion, telling the Scottish Conservative party conference in March that it was “astonishing” for the devolved government to be opposing drilling.
He said it was “fortunate” that the matter was reserved to Westminster and said the invasion of Ukraine had made the case for drilling “unanswerable”.
On the first day of the COP26 climate talks last year, he said the controversial Cambo oilfield should “100% open”. And in December, he said North Sea gas was needed to produce “blue hydrogen” – a fuel touted as low-carbon despite methane leakage from the gas extraction process and doubts about the carbon capture technology involved.
Speaking to MPs on the Scottish Affairs Committee, he clarified he was “not a hard right extremist”.
Despite his support for the industry, Jack has made positive comments about the need for action on climate change. Last year, he called it “one of the most pressing emergencies to face us”, with “catastrophic events” causing trillions of dollars worth of damage.
“We owe it to our children, our grandchildren and their descendants to act. The future of our planet is at stake,” he wrote in The Scotsman.
On his website, Jack has praised the government’s 2050 net zero target as “feasible and consistent with avoiding most damaging climate change”, arguing an earlier 2030 goal is “almost certainly impossible, hugely disruptive and risks undermining consensus”.
He has also written of the “crucial role” electric vehicles will play in reaching net zero, though in the same letter to constituents celebrated the UK’s decade-long freeze on fuel duty, criticised by environmental groups.
Robert Buckland – Wales Secretary
The former justice secretary has been fairly lukewarm in his calls for climate action.
On his website, Buckland describes protecting “our cherished environment” as a key focus, welcoming a £640 million “Nature for Climate” government fund, enabling the planting of 30,000 more trees every year, and a £500 million “Blue Planet Fund” to protect oceans as a means of reaching net zero.
However, he has also warned that the government’s net zero ambitions could backfire without a clear plan to deliver them.
More concerningly for climate advocates, Buckland is a keen supporter of hydrogen, which experts say should only be used in a limited number of applications, with electrification being the preferred option.
In 2020, he said Swindon was “helping to develop cars of the future, which are powered by hydrogen fuel cells”, aided by chemicals giant Johnson Matthey, one of whose executives was recently appointed the government’s “hydrogen champion”, leading to criticism from green campaigners.
Wendy Morton – Chief Whip
During COP26 last year, Morton – then Europe minister – tweeted about how “good” it was to join leaders “to elevate the voices of those most impacted by climate change”.
She also wrote that climate change was a “huge health challenge” and it was important to improve the “climate resilience” of health systems as well as cut emissions from the sector.
Her record is somewhat marred by a leaked memo, prepared for Morton in her previous role, that revealed plans to slash funding for overseas water and sanitation projects – considered vital in helping countries deal with climate impacts – by more than 80 percent.
Alok Sharma – COP26 President
Alok Sharma ran the COP26 UN climate talks held in Glasgow last year and is generally seen to have done his best to make the summit a success, despite the challenges he faced.
In September 2019, before he was appointed as COP26 President, Sharma tweeted that the summit was “an important moment to turbo charge ambition to tackle climate change”. He welled up with emotion as the Glasgow Climate Pact agreed by delegates was watered down at the eleventh hour.
His record isn’t all green, however. In 2015, Sharma received a £15,000 donation from Offshore Group Newcastle, a company that manufactures steel for oil platforms run by Ukrainian businessman and major Tory donor Alexander Temerko.
Sharma originally opposed the expansion of Heathrow Airport, but has supported the project since becoming an MP for nearby Reading West. While running for election in 2009, he spoke of the damage it would cause saying: “It is time for the government to abandon its plans for a third runway and, if a Conservative Government is elected, we will certainly stop this environmental disaster.”
His opposition had faltered by 2013 when he voiced his support for the development in a Conservative Home article. In 2014, the Reading Chronicle reported that Sharma welcomed a “vital multi-billion pound plan” to expand Heathrow and, in June 2018, he voted with his party in favour of the third runway.
Graham Stuart – Climate Minister
Graham Stuart has been the MP for Beverley and Holderness since 2005 and is regarded as a green Conservative who has consistently advocated for climate action.
In September 2019, he tweeted: “Net Zero will make the UK a world leader in climate science, innovation and exports” and has also described climate change as “one of the greatest challenges we will face in this lifetime”.
Ahead of the 2019 election, he tweeted: “One of the most important messages of this election. If you care about the environment and believe the UK can provide global leadership then #VoteBlueGoGreen.” While serving as Minister of Exports from Feb 2020 – Sept 2021, Stuart met the Serbian Prime Minister to discuss “green growth & climate ambitions” as priorities, as well as “trade and climate collaboration” in Vietnam.
Stuart has also “taken a keen interest in renewables developments”, with visits to Humber Gateway offshore wind farm , according to BusinessLive. This is in line with his stated aim of helping to make Yorkshire and the Humber “a global leader for green innovation”.
However, campaigners say that Stuart’s green credentials are undermined by his support for wood-pellet burning at Drax power station in Selby, located around 30 miles from his Yorkshire constituency of Beverley and Holderness.
A blog post on Stuart’s website describes Drax as providing “the most renewable power of any single location in the UK”, and “vital for ensuring the UK’s energy security”.
Though Drax receives over £800m in subsidies based on the strongly contested notion that wood-pellet burning is renewable, Drax Power Station is in fact the single biggest emitter of carbon dioxide in the country.
Lord True – Leader of the Lords
Nicholas True is certainly one of the greener cabinet ministers.
In July, he told parliament the government had “been in the lead on appreciating the impacts of climate change”, pointing to the Conservatives’ introduction of the net zero target and how party leaders had “spoken passionately” about the need to keep alive the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.
“We must continue to drive forward the initiatives that help us curb the impacts of climate change and at the same time build systems that help us withstand extreme events as they arise,” he said.
As the former leader of Richmond Council, he strongly opposed the expansion of Heathrow Airport, writing in the run-up to the approval of the third runway in 2016 about the “hundreds of thousands of people whose lives are already blighted by the noise, air pollution, traffic and environmental degradation that is Heathrow”.
One recent comment in a parliamentary debate would cause concern for climate advocates, however. In July, True seemed to suggest he wasn’t opposed to a new coal mine in the UK, given the need to “balance the issues across the energy sector and the global economy caused by the illegal invasion of Ukraine”.
Kit Malthouse – Education Secretary
Malthouse has recognised the impacts of climate change and the need to adapt as well as cut emissions. While Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, amid this summer’s heatwave, he told MPs that the UK needed to “learn to live with extreme events such as these”.
“The government has been at the forefront of international efforts to reach net zero, but the impacts of climate change are with us now,” he said.
He added that Britain would continue to face “acute events driven by climate change”, announcing the upcoming launch of a new national resilience strategy by the new government.
Malthouse has strongly criticised green activists, however, tweeting last year that Insulate Britain protests were an “abject lesson in how to kill enthusiasm for action against climate change”.
And in July, Malthouse was accused of misrepresenting the government’s record on climate adaptation by the leader of the Green Party Caroline Lucas.
Edward Argar – Paymaster General
Argar has been the MP for Charnwood since 2015. Before he joined Parliament, Argar was the head of UK and Europe public affairs at Serco, an outsourcing company for government services.
After leaving university he worked as a political advisor to the then shadow foreign secretary Lord Ancram, focusing on Middle East policy. He has previously held ministerial positions at the justice and health departments.
As health minister, Argar supported the “Greener NHS Strategy”. Responding to a written question in June last year, he said the NHS was “committed to achieving net zero for both direct and indirect emissions” and explained that the 2020 strategy “sets out how more sustainable models of care can not only improve patient outcomes, patient experience and care quality but also reduce carbon emissions”.
Vicky Ford – Minister for Development
The MP for Chelmsford since 2017, Ford is generally regarded as a green Conservative, having previously served on the All Party Parliamentary Group on Climate Change and been a member of the Conservative Environment Network’s parliamentary caucus – stepping down to become a minister.
In an undated blog post on the Institute of Engineering and Technology’s website, Ford wrote: “We have to tackle climate change, we do not have a choice. We have to cap the global temperature rise at 1.5% [sic]. The UK is leading the world in fighting climate change. We should be proud of what has been achieved.”
Ford also praised the UK’s development of renewables and electric vehicles, as well as the country’s net zero commitment – though her claim that the UK was the “first country to commit to net-zero in our law” wasn’t quite right (it was in fact the first major economy).
Her enthusiasm for carbon capture and storage (CCS) may rankle with climate advocates, given major concerns over its viability.
James Heappey – Minister for the Armed Forces and Veterans
However, he also appears to have leapt enthusiastically onto the hydrogen bandwagon, backing it for both heavy industry – generally considered uncontroversial – and other uses, such as heating.
Ben Wallace – Defence Secretary
Wallace supports the government’s net zero plans, tweeting during COP26 that “Climate change has far reaching consequences for global peace and security”.
He launched the Ministry of Defence’s climate change strategy in March 2021, writing in The Sun that the plan was a way of both helping the military to “win in ever more hostile environments”, as well as helping to “slash” emissions. He added that the UK would in future become “more innovative as we aim to become cleaner and greener” and would continue to “rollout our electric vehicle fleet”.
In July 2022, Wallace encouraged people to consider implementing energy-saving measures to reduce our gas consumption in the midst of rising energy costs. He said: “Countries in Europe are already doing energy-saving measures. What steps can we all take at home to try and reduce our energy?”
Wallace did raise some concerns over fracking in his local area in 2014, but ultimately did not seem to oppose it at the time, commenting: “Should the fracking continue, I am very keen for my constituents and the local community to have proper tangible benefits from the exploration.”
Therese Coffey – Health Secretary
In an October 2021 speech as Work and Pensions Secretary, Coffey said that net zero was “a race that the whole world has to win together”.
The speech celebrated the government’s achievements and advocated for pension schemes as a mechanism for supporting net zero targets. Coffey praised the UK’s coal phaseout and growth of its offshore wind sector.
In March, Coffey said: “High emitters – like fossil fuel companies – should be supported in their transition to Net Zero – and we need them to invest in green technologies.”
Coffey also voiced support for COP26 where “we kept the aim of a 1.5 degree rise in temperatures within reach – mobilising global climate finance to help power our greener future and committing to make the UK the world’s first Net Zero financial centre.”
Chloe Smith – Work/Pensions Secretary
The former health minister has said little about climate policy over the years.
In a blog post last year, Smith expressed her support for the UK’s 2050 net zero target, writing: “The UK was the first G7 economy to legislate to achieve net zero emissions. I’ve supported for some time the plan to achieve this.”
In the post, she celebrated offshore wind energy, suggesting that through a “green industrial revolution”, the UK will produce enough of it to “power every home, quadrupling how much we currently produce to 40GW by 2030, which will support up to 60,000 jobs”.
Smith also backed efforts to create and support “highly-skilled green jobs across the UK”, to cement London as “the global centre of green finance”, and to develop the UK’s support for electric vehicles and associated infrastructure.
In the same post, however, Smith praised plans “to develop the first town heated entirely by hydrogen by the end of the decade,” despite major concerns about its viability. She also said she wanted the UK to be a “world leader” in carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, which many climate campaigners and experts view with caution.
Tom Tugendhat – Security Minister
Tugendhat wrote in January 2020 that “climate change is one of the greatest challenges we face and I fully appreciate the urgency in our need to combat it”.
However, at a July 2022 hustings event during the Conservative party leadership race, Tugendhat reportedly said he would push the 2050 net zero target back – before telling reporters the next day that he sees net zero as a “benefit”, not just a “cost”.
During the race, the former British army officer also announced that he would slash fuel duty “by 10p a litre” – widely seen as a regressive measure environmentally when nearly a quarter of all the UK’s emissions come from transport.
Tugendhat has generally defended the UK’s net zero commitment on the grounds of energy security.
“Net zero isn’t just about climate change anymore, but shielding ourselves from Russia’s weaponisation of its position in energy markets,” Tugendhat told the Telegraph in July, adding that a “sluggish” approach to decarbonising would “hand the economic and technological advances of the future to our competitors, and compromise growth industries in the UK’s industrial heartlands”.
Tugendhat is a former member of the Conservative Environment Network (CEN) and is also on the advisory board of Onward, a Tory think tank that supports net zero and decarbonising the economy. In April, the organisation published research that found ditching net zero would cost the Tories 1.3 million votes.
Additional research by Phoebe Cooke and Adam Barnett.