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Truss makes Rees-Mogg energy chief to dismay of climate campaigners

Newly appointed business secretary, who has previously questioned the UK’s net zero drive, will oversee energy and industrial strategy

Saphora Smith
Climate Correspondent
Wednesday 07 September 2022 12:22 BST
Jacob Rees-Mogg admits he 'got it wrong' about Brexit delays in Dover

Jacob Rees-Mogg, who once blamed high energy prices on “climate change alarmism”, has been appointed energy secretary in Liz Truss’ new cabinet to the widespread dismay of environmental campaigners.

Climate activists and opposition politicians described the Conservative MP’s appointment as secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy as “deeply worrying”.

Mr Rees-Mogg will not take on the brief of minister for the climate following pressure from Tory MPs, with Graham Stuart appointed minister for the climate in the business department. No 10 had planned to give Mr Rees-Mogg the brief as part of his new role as business secretary.

But Mr Rees-Mogg, who has previously expressed climate and net-zero sceptic views, will lead the department responsible for the country’s strategy to reach net zero emissions by mid-century.

“No government that’s remotely serious about tackling the twin climate and nature emergencies would even contemplate putting Jacob Rees-Mogg in charge of that portfolio,” said Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion. “He’s the worst possible candidate at the worst possible moment.”

In 2013, in an article written forThe Telegraph Mr Rees-Mogg questioned climate fears, saying: “It is widely accepted that carbon dioxide emissions have risen but the effect on the climate remains much debated while the computer modelling that has been done to date has not proved especially accurate.”

While that was nearly a decade ago, earlier this year Mr Rees-Mogg said Boris Johnson’s government wanted “every last drop” of oil and gas from the North Sea dismissing warnings that a renewed push for fossil fuels would ruin the UK’s chances of achieving net zero by 2050.

“2050 is a long way off,” Mr Rees-Mogg told LBC at the time. “We’re not trying to become net zero tomorrow. We’re going to need fossil fuels in the interim.”

The cabinet minister also described the idea of reopening fracking sites “quite an interesting opportunity.”

“Putting someone who recently suggested ‘every last drop’ of oil should be extracted from the North Sea in charge of energy policy is deeply worrying for anyone concerned about the deepening climate emergency, solving the cost-of-living crisis and keeping our fuel bills down for good,” said Friends of the Earth’s head of political affairs, Dave Timms.

Liz Truss's first speech as prime minister in full

Ed Miliband, shadow secretary of state for climate change and net zero for Labour, said: “We need an energy secretary for the 2020s not the 1820s. But everything that Jacob Rees-Mogg has said on energy is stuck in the past.”

“If ministers had acted on Rees-Mogg’s views then Britain would be even more exposed to skyrocketing energy bills this winter, more dependent on expensive fossil fuels and even less prepared to tackle the climate crisis.”

Ed Matthew, campaigns director at independent climate change think tank E3G, said: “A Business Secretary who doesn’t understand we are in the midst of a green energy revolution or that this is the best way to bring down energy bills and generate economic growth would leave the business community in complete despair.

“The only exceptions would be the oil and gas producers and Vladimir Putin,” he added.

Ms Truss appointed the former Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, who was broadly seen by climate policy wonks as sound on net zero, as her chancellor offering environmentalists some hope there may be more support for net zero from the Treasury.

Greenpeace echoed Ms Lucas’ criticism, calling Mr Rees-Mogg “the last person” who should be in charge of the energy brief.

“This will either be a massive own goal for Truss’s efforts to tackle the cost of living crisis or Rees-Mogg will have to do the steepest learning curve in history as he gets to grips with the issues facing our country,” said Rebecca Newsom, head of politics for Greenpeace UK.

Tessa Khan, the founder and director of Uplift, which campaigns for a just and fossil-free UK said Mr Rees-Mogg would be confronted with reality this week.

“He’s been free to believe and say what he likes until now, but the responsibility for delivering an affordable supply of energy to the country now lies squarely on his shoulders,” she said.

The Independent has contacted Mr Rees-Mogg’s team for comment.

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