DeSmog

Meet the Labour Government’s New Climate Team

Introducing the key politicians tasked with delivering the government’s energy transformation plans – and the jobs at the top of their intrays.
Analysis
Top row (l-r) Steve Reed, Loiuse Haigh, Kerry McCarthy, Ed Miliband, Patrick Vallance, Lord Philip Hunt, Sarah Jones. Bottom row (l-r): Michael Shanks, Chris Stark, Miatta Fahnbulleh, Jonathan Reynolds. Credit: House of Commons official portraits. Design by Adam Barnett.

Labour has wasted no time in appointing its climate team, who are tasked with getting the UK back on track to meet its net zero targets.

As a record 335 new MPs take tours of (and selfies in) their new place of work, we take a look at those responsible for getting the UK to net zero emissions by 2050, and protecting our environment.

At the helm are former Labour leader Ed Miliband, heading up the UK’s net zero and energy security portfolio, and environment and farming secretary Steve Reed.

Chris Stark, the former chief executive of the government’s advisory body, the Climate Change Committee, was on Tuesday appointed the head of Mission Control for Clean Power, in charge of decarbonising the UK’s electricity by 2030.

The scale of the challenge is enormous. Labour plans to overhaul planning laws, and massively expand the grid to transport electricity in pylons across the country from dozens of new solar and wind farms.

Despite ditching its £28 billion climate pledge in February, the party’s attitude to tackling climate change is far more positive and engaged than the Conservatives, whose attacks on net zero appear to have cost the party votes ahead of the election.

A DeSmog analysis found that two thirds of supporters of the backbench Net Zero Scrutiny Group (NZSG) are no longer represented in Parliament.

While Caroline Lucas, Westminster’s most vocal climate champion, has retired from politics, a record four new Green MPs have entered the fold.

On the flipside, Nigel Farage’s anti-net zero Reform UK party, now with five MPs in the Commons, has pledged to scrap the UK’s legally binding commitment to a 2050 climate target altogether.

Labour’s path will not be smooth. Ministers face a number of difficult decisions on hydrogen, nuclear and carbon capture and storage. They will also need to make a call on everything from allowing the “carbon neutral” Cumbria coal mine to proceed, and continued subsidies for the wood-fired power station Drax.

With briefs on climate, the environment, transport and science, the following 14 ministers are charged with kicking off Labour’s emission-reductions programme:

Ed Miliband

Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero

After 14 years in opposition, Ed Milband rejoins the government’s front bench in charge of tackling an existential issue that will demand both international and domestic diplomacy in spades.

Ed has been here before. Many of Labour’s new MPs will be too young to remember when Miliband became the UK’s first Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change under Gordon Brown in 2008.

Under Miliband, the government committed in 2008 to raising the UK’s emission-cutting targets from 60 to 80 percent by 2050.

Over fifteen years later, Labour plans to make Britain a “clean energy superpower” with plans for a new state-owned GB Energy. This, according to the party’s manifesto, will help drive the transition to net zero electricity by 2030 and create 650,000 new high-quality jobs.

Miliband and his ministers can expect stiff opposition to the build out of electricity-transporting pylons and solar that will be vital for decarbonisation.

There is already one such headache on his doorstep, where plans for the 536-hectare Fenwick Solar Farm face a major backlash in his constituency of Doncaster North – a seat he has held since 2005.

Labour’s plans to cut energy bills and tackle home insulation will be a critical part of his national strategy that will also resonate in Miliband’s own constituency. Nearly one in five households (around 20 percent) in Doncaster North live in fuel poverty – significantly higher than the 13 percent national average.

During the election campaign, Miliband said Labour would scrap the Conservatives’ 2035 ban on new gas boilers, saying: “I know that we’ve got to show that heat pumps are affordable and are going to work for people.”

Sarah Jones

Minister of State in the Department of Energy Security and Net Zero, and in the Department of Business and Trade

Jones’s new appointment spans both the energy and business and trade portfolios. Announcing the role on X, she said it was an “honour” to be appointed by the prime minister, adding: “Lots to do”.

Jones will be working closely with Miliband in his new team, together responsible for delivering on making the UK a “clean energy superpower”.

The MP for the new constituency of Croydon West has served in a number of significant roles in Labour’s opposition, including as shadow minister for the Home Office and for housing. A relative newcomer to climate policy, she was appointed the shadow minister for industry and decarbonisation in September 2023.

Jones has advocated for the increased use of hydrogen and carbon capture, utilisation and storage, in line with Labour’s manifesto. 

Hydrogen is a clean-burning fuel that has won support across the benches a as a better alternative to fossil fuels in certain contexts, but the extent of its use remains controversial. Currently, the vast majority of hydrogen (96 percent) made globally is “grey” – created from methane, a highly potent planet-warming greenhouse gas, responsible for nearly a third of global heating.

The use of other types of hydrogen is also controversial. “Blue” hydrogen – where the greenhouse gases from the “grey” process are captured and stored underground – is criticised as an unproven technology. “Green” hydrogen – made using electrolysis from wind or solar power – will have a vital role in decarbonising industry, but is hugely resource and cost intensive.

In June, DeSmog reported that Jones accepted sponsorship for a fundraiser from Beyond 2050, a hydrogen lobby group supported by oil and gas companies BP and Equinor.

Beyond 2050 is backed by a major Conservative Party donor, Lord Bamford. DeSmog previously reported that it had coordinated a “Hydrogen Zone” at the 2023 Labour and Conservative party conferences, where a number of its clients used stands to promote the controversial and widely discredited use of hydrogen for home heating.

Labour has yet to rule out the use of hydrogen to heat homes, but will have to make a decision by 2026.

Miatta Fahnbulleh MP

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero

A rising star in the Labour Party, Fahnbulleh is one of five new MPs to be awarded a ministerial role without having served as an MP.

However, the newly elected representative for Camberwell and Peckham is not short of star credentials in both politics and policy. 

Fahnbulleh was the CEO of the New Economics Foundation think tank until last year, and before that the director of policy and research at the Institute of Public Policy Research.

She was also a political advisor to Ed Miliband during his Labour leadership, where her brief included housing, energy and climate change, and transport.

Fahnbulleh spent eight years at senior levels in the Cabinet Office, including as head of the cities policy unit.

Kerry McCarthy

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero

McCarthy kept hold of her Bristol East seat at the general election, seeing off stiff competition from her Green Party competitor Ani Stafford-Townsend, who took over 30 percent of the votes.

The former Labour councillor, who has represented the constituency since 2005, has worked across a number of environment-related briefs over the past decade.

McCarthy was the shadow environment and farming secretary from 2015 to 2016, and the shadow minister for green transport from 2020-2021. Under Keir Starmer, she was appointed the shadow minister for climate change in June 2022 and has retained that role in the new Labour government.

Prior to entering politics, McCarthy was a solicitor, who worked as a lawyer for investment bank Merrill Lynch Europe and for the Labour Party.

She was also the director of London Luton Airport (1999-2003), and a director of pro-European pressure group Britain in Europe (2002-2004).

In 2022, she criticised the Conservative government for “blocking new solar”. In a post on her website, she said it was “beyond belief” that the government would be putting obstacles in the way of solar power.

McCarthy sits on a number of environmental cross-party All Party Parliamentary Groups, including on global deforestation, biodiversity in UK overseas territories, and bees and pollinators.

Michael Shanks MP

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero

Shanks is one of two Scottish Labour MPs to be appointed to government.

He was elected to Parliament for the first time last year in a landslide by-election. At the time, Keir Starmer described the result in Rutherglen & Hamilton as “seismic” and a “must-win” for Labour, indicative of the party’s rising appeal in Scotland.

Shanks served as the shadow minister of state for Scotland prior to joining government. 

In his new role, Shanks is expected to have a large say in GB Energy, Labour’s planned publicly owned energy company, which will be headquartered in Scotland.

Labour has said it will fund the company through a windfall tax on oil and gas firms, which they claim would raise £8.3 billion over the next five years.

Philip Hunt

Minister of State in the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero

Baron Philip Hunt is a Labour life peer and a self-employed consultant to the NHS.

Hunt has served in a number of ministerial roles, including as a parliamentary under secretary for the Department of Health, the Department for Work and Pensions, and the Ministry of Justice.

In 2008, Hunt was appointed the deputy leader of the House of Lords, and the minister of state for sustainable development, climate change adaptation and air quality at both the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the newly created Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc). 

Hunt has previously worked closely with Miliband, having served as Labour’s spokesperson on home affairs and for the cabinet office after his election as Labour leader.

Chris Stark

Head of Mission Control for Clean Power

The surprise appointment of Chris Stark to government has delighted climate advocates.

Stark was the head of the UK’s climate watchdog, the Climate Change Committee (CCC), for six years, and the director of energy and climate change in the Scottish government between 2016 and 2018.

Under his leadership, the CCC recommended the UK’s target for net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, which the Conservative Party adopted in 2019.

Stark’s new position is a brand new role, in which he will head a new “Mission Control” centre. According to Desnz, the centre will be “a one-stop shop, bringing together a top team of industry experts and officials to troubleshoot, negotiate and clear the way for energy projects”.

He will be “tasked with turbocharging the shift from volatile fossil fuel markets to home-grown clean power by 2030”.

In a video on social media platform X, Stark described the new role as “an opportunity of a lifetime”.

Steve Reed

Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Steve Reed was elected MP for the newly drawn constituency of Streatham and Croydon North, having been Croydon North MP since 2012. He has served as Labour’s shadow environment secretary since September 2023. 

Reed has been an outspoken defender of the environment. In January, he spoke out against the government’s Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill, which would require annual licensing rounds for offshore oil and gas extraction in the UK.

Writing on social media platform X, he described the bill as a “damaging political gimmick”. He added: “It will not bring down people’s energy bills or secure the jobs we need for the future. But it will undermine work to tackle the climate crisis.”

Reed has also been a vocal supporter of farmers. In a House of Commons debate in May, Reed said: “The government’s failure to invest in home-grown clean energy has left farmers crippled by skyrocketing energy prices. They have sold farmers’ interests down the river with dodgy trade deals, opening the door to low-welfare, low-standard imports that undercut higher-quality British producers.” 

On the other hand, he has also expressed concerns about the environmental land management scheme (ELMS), which gives farmers a subsidy and requires them to cut carbon dioxide emissions and protect nature. In the same Commons speech, Reed said the Conservatives had “botched” its implementation.

Since his appointment, Reed has already met with the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) president, Tom Bradshaw. He reportedly told Defra colleagues that his five priorities are to clean up the country’s sewage-filled waterways, work towards Britain being a “zero waste economy”, improve food security, help nature recover, and protect communities from flooding.

Daniel Zeichner

Minister for Farming, Food and Fisheries

Zeichner has had a long history of working on environmental issues, and was the shadow minister for environment, food and rural affairs until his appointment as a minister this week.

He has been a vocal advocate for more stringent environmental protections in relation to food and farming, arguing that “that farming and the environment must not be seen as in conflict”.

Zeichner has also argued that pollinator health was “just not negotiable” in a debate on whether to ban particularly harmful neonicotinoid pesticides.

Emma Hardy

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the  Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Announcing her appointment on Instagram, Hardy said she was “excited to be at the beating heart of a Labour government”.

The MP for Kingston-Upon-Hull West and Hessle since 2010, Hardy was promoted to the opposition front bench last year as shadow minister for flooding, oceans and coastal communities.

From 2017 to 2020, Hardy served as parliamentary private secretary to Keir Starmer in his previous role as shadow secretary of state for exiting the European Union.

In line with the vast majority of Labour MPs, Hardy has voted positively on climate issues, including against fracking for shale gas and in favour of a ban on the burning of peat in upland areas.

Sue Hayman

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs

The Labour peer announced her appointment to Defra on Tuesday. In a post on social media platform X, she said she was looking forward to working with the team “to protect and enhance our environment, support our farmers and improve animal welfare”. 

This was welcomed by Green Party peer Baroness Jenny Jones, who congratulated her and said: “You have been a superb Shadow Minister in Lords and massively deserve the Defra post.”

At the time of publication, the appointment and her exact job title are yet to be confirmed. 

Hayman previously served as shadow secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs from 2017 to 2019. In that role in May 2019 she called on the government to declare a “national environment and climate emergency” in a motion that was voted through in Pparliament. 

After losing her seat in the 2019 general election she was appointed to the House of Lords in 2020, and made a shadow Defra spokesperson. Since 2021 she has also served as a shadow spokesperson for levelling up, housing and communities.

Jonathan Reynolds

Secretary of State for Business and Trade 

Reynolds has been a passionate advocate for UK climate action. He has a long history of working on climate-related briefs across roles in business, transport and environment departments, most recently as shadow business and trade secretary since September 2023. 

He has already worked closely with Miliband, having served in his shadow cabinet as shadow minister for energy and climate change between 2013-2015.

Representing Stalybridge & Hyde in Greater Manchester since 2010, in November 2023, he criticised the government’s programme as “not only incredibly thin, but completely incoherent”. 

Reynolds has called on the UK to become a “clean energy superpower” through advances in offshore wind, solar, nuclear, and carbon capture.

During a parliamentary debate on job losses at the Port Talbot steelworks, Reynolds claimed that Labour’s plan for workers was “industry-wide, comprehensive, and transformative”.
As shadow rails minister from 2015-2016, he backed the nationalisation of the UK’s railways. He also called attention to a “chronic underinvestment in infrastructure in the regions outside London”.

Louise Haigh

Secretary of State for Transport

New transport secretary Louise Haigh has told civil servants she wants to “change the way our country runs”.

At 36, the MP for Sheffield Heeley is the youngest ever serving female cabinet minister. 

Prior to her election in 2015, she worked for Aviva as public policy manager, responsible for corporate governance and responsible investment policy.

Haigh, who held the shadow brief for over two years prior to Labour’s landslide victory, has promised to prioritise the nationalisation of British rail in the first term of a Labour government.

“This will be the most public transport-committed government in Britain’s history,” she is quoted saying.

In May 2024, Haigh accepted a £5,000 donation from Lodestone Communications, which has worked with clients in nuclear, hydrogen, and aquaculture, for “a report on responses to a consultation document to support me in my front bench role”.

Patrick Vallance

Minister of State in the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology

The UK government’s chief scientific advisor from April 2018 to April 2023, Vallance became a household name during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, during which he presented nightly briefings on TV alongside chief medical officer Chris Whitty and former prime minister Boris Johnson. 

Keir Starmer has also appointed Vallance to the House of Lords. It’s not clear yet what his role will involve. 

Vallance had publicly backed Labour’s pledge for “clean power by 2030”, which he was quoted saying in Labour’s 2024 election manifesto “is achievable and should be prioritised”. In the quote, he went on to liken the swift “transition to clean, homegrown energy” to the UK’s world-leading role in developing a Covid vaccine. 

He has repeatedly spoken out about the need to tackle climate change. In 2022 Vallance gave an emergency briefing to 70 members of parliament, stating that the climate crisis would be more of a challenge than Covid: “We face 50 years of really big problems relating to climate, and the nature of that threat to countries around the world means that this has to be… on every government’s agenda.”

In March 2023, Vallance gave a keynote speech at the Natural History Museum in which he made a detailed case for a science-based response to the climate crisis.

UPDATE (12/07/24): This article has been updated to include Sue Hayman’s updated job title and further details on Sarah Jones’s appointment.

Phoebe Cooke headshot - credit Laura King Photography
Phoebe joined DeSmog in 2020. She is currently co-deputy editor and was previously the organisation's Senior Reporter.
Adam Barnett - new white crop
Adam Barnett is DeSmog's UK News Reporter. He is a former Staff Writer at Left Foot Forward and BBC Local Democracy Reporter.
_DSF9382
Joey Grostern is a freelance climate reporter and researcher for DeSmog since April 2023. His work focuses on news media and has been covered by The Guardian, The Intercept, and The Nation. He also works freelance for Deutsche Welle and Clean Energy Wire in Berlin.

Related Posts

on

Fossil fuel interests are deploying unprecedented strategies to hide evidence of companies’ deception and block liability lawsuits before they reach trial.

Fossil fuel interests are deploying unprecedented strategies to hide evidence of companies’ deception and block liability lawsuits before they reach trial.
on

Federal lawsuit alleges EPA’s rules on ethylene oxide and chloroprene emissions rely on weak industry estimates rather than real-world data on risks to health.

Federal lawsuit alleges EPA’s rules on ethylene oxide and chloroprene emissions rely on weak industry estimates rather than real-world data on risks to health.
on

The host committee for the Republican National Convention names the Canadian pipeline company as a 'partner' on its website.

The host committee for the Republican National Convention names the Canadian pipeline company as a 'partner' on its website.
on

Shell is the latest oil giant to delete claims after an anti-greenwashing law passed in Parliament.

Shell is the latest oil giant to delete claims after an anti-greenwashing law passed in Parliament.