Rishi Sunak has put a long-time climate contrarian in charge of the government’s Wales policy, upgrading him from the junior ministerial role he was given three years ago by Boris Johnson.
Monmouth MP David Davies, whose responsibilities will include energy, climate change, and broader economic issues related to the devolved nation, has a long history of dismissing climate science and criticising environmental action.
The Liberal Democrats called the move “madness” and said it was evidence that climate science denial “continues to live on in Rishi Sunak’s cabinet as it did in Liz Truss’s”.
“The Government cannot claim to be serious about solving the climate emergency whilst they continuously appoint sceptics to ministerial roles,” the party’s climate spokesperson, Wera Hobhouse, said.
Stuart Capstick, deputy director of Cardiff University’s Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformation contrasted Davies’s views with the Welsh government’s ambitious climate policies.
“David Davies has made some disturbing and frankly plain wrong statements about the climate crisis in recent years.
“It’s to be hoped that becoming Welsh Secretary might help him better understand the scale of the problem, rather than giving him an opportunity to throw sand in the gears of devolved climate action.”
The news comes as Sunak launches a new programme of government after Truss’s short-lived premiership.
The former chancellor won praise from climate advocates this week for reinstating the Conservatives’ ban on fracking.
But Sunak is also reportedly planning to keep the UK’s effective ban on onshore wind developments in place – a policy Truss had pledged to reverse – and has said he will not be attending the upcoming COP27 climate summit in Egypt
Davies, who was made a junior Wales minister and assistant whip under Boris Johnson, recently told the news outlet WalesOnline that he “fully accepts” the link between carbon dioxide and climate change, and said in 2020 that the government “remains committed” to its net zero goal.
But a post on his website still states that human-caused climate change “may not even exist” and calls for the UK’s Climate Change Act, described as “one of the most expensive and irresponsible pieces of legislation in history”, to be “significantly transformed or revoked”.
Davies has consistently cast doubt on climate science and lobbied against action throughout his political career.
His Welsh constituency has been hit by numerous floods in recent years, which scientists say are made more likely by rising emissions, with the cost of a relief scheme for residents running into the millions.
Davies has also more recently backed hydrogen-powered cars, whose viability and sustainability experts dispute.
The government had not responded to a request for comment and clarification on Davies’s current views by time of publication.
While overall Sunak is expected to take a less ideologically driven anti-green approach than Truss, Davies is not the only cabinet minister he has picked who is hostile to climate action.
The newly reappointed Home Secretary Suella Braverman called for the UK to suspend its “all-consuming desire” to reach net zero emissions by 2050 during the party leadership race over the summer.
Her campaign manager was arch climate policy critic Steve Baker, who argues that Britain – which is not currently on track to meet its legally binding emissions reduction targets – is doing too much to tackle global heating.
‘Alarmist’ Climate Scientists
Davies has frequently dismissed the need to take action to cut emissions.
In a parliamentary debate to ratify the Paris Agreement in 2016, he repeated a misleading argument regularly used by climate science deniers that the climate has always changed.
In a debate a week later on BBC impartiality, he accused the public broadcaster of accepting “hook, line and sinker the so-called scientific consensus on climate change”.
In his regular column for the South Wales Argus in 2018, Davies accused the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which brings together climate scientists from around the world, of being “alarmists”.
He also criticised the government’s support for green energy, saying that “an unholy coalition of environmentalists working with big businesses have persuaded various British ministers to phase out cheap electricity from coal and gas and replace it with non-CO2 generating alternatives such as wind, solar and nuclear”.
In 2019, a month before claiming he had never denied climate change, Davies defended a decision by Cardiff University’s student newspaper to publish a “climate change debate” between a student who accepted mainstream science and another who argued climate change was a conspiracy to bring down capitalism and temperature increases were no different to the “Medieval warm period”.
The same month, he argued that the ability of the Netherlands to adapt to rising sea levels meant that other countries could do the same, decrying “climate alarmists” promoting “doomsday scenarios”.
Earlier in the year, he got into a Twitter argument with climate scientist Ed Hawkins during which he said previous periods of warming were evidence that current climate change could be significantly due to natural causes.
Davies has also said it is hypocritical for people to have sympathised with the plight of miners who lost their jobs under Margaret Thatcher but to now oppose the use of coal on climate grounds.
The Liberal Democrats’ Wera Hobhouse said: “It is irresponsible to have people who are lukewarm towards the actual belief in global warming spearheading climate action.”