Jacob Rees-Mogg: Are climate campaigners right to be worried about the new business secretary?
Jacob Rees-Mogg's appointment as business secretary prompted a fierce backlash from climate groups, but are they right to be worried?
With a brief of business, energy and industrial strategy (BEIS), the former Brexit opportunities minister will work closely alongside new Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng in Liz Truss’s Government at a crucial time for the country.
Britain is facing a cost-of-living crisis, a housing crisis, and the UK Government is already drawing up worst-case scenario plans for energy rationing.
It comes as Ms Truss flagged more than 100 oil and gas North Sea exploration licences would be approved as part of a package of measures to boost the UK’s energy security and curb soaring costs.
A controversial figure, Mr Rees-Mogg was a frequent critic of green policy from the backbenches, and has a history of comments questioning Government policy on tackling climate change.
As a result, climate groups have already questioned the appointment, with Greenpeace saying he was the “last person” who should be in charge.
Rebecca Newsom, head of politics for Greenpeace UK, said: “Rees-Mogg is the last person who should be in charge of the energy brief, at the worst possible moment.
“Rees-Mogg blamed ‘climate alarmism’ for high energy bills, pushing David Cameron to ‘cut the green c**p’ like incentives for solar, wind and energy efficiency – which has added £150 to every energy bill. Appointing him to the brief now suggests the Tories have learned nothing from some years of energy policy incompetence.
“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.”
Concerns were also raised by climate change charity Ashden, which urged him to focus on “renewables, not fossil fuels”.
Harriet Lamb, chief executive of Ashden said: “Few Government jobs are more important at this critical moment for the country. This is a position which can make or break the future of the UK’s economy and our resilience to the climate chaos that is hurtling down the tracks.
“As a country, we must honour the UK’s leadership role at COP26 as the UK still holds the presidency for the next two months until COP27 – and as Secretary of state for BEIS, Jacob Rees-Mogg will be central to that.
"It makes economic sense to put climate change at the heart of a future-looking industrial strategy, investing in the green skills of tomorrow’s economy and society, investing in nature-based solutions, and backing at scale and at pace the entrepreneurs who are innovating in clean energy solutions.
“The renewed interest in fracking and the 100 new North Sea oil and gas licenses that Rees-Mogg supported in his energy statement are baffling. It would swing the UK’s net zero plans dramatically into reverse and would not come online for years, so providing no increased energy security for British householders and businesses this winter. New renewable energy, in contrast, can be up and running very quickly and cheaply with concerted investment and political will.”
Mr Rees-Mogg’s opposition counterpart Ed Miliband was also critical, with the former Labour leader urging the minister to remember “we need energy policy for the 2020s, not the 1820s”.
These warnings come not from a political view, but rather over specific comments and claims the new minister has made.
In 2013, Mr Rees-Mogg even went as far to question whether climate change was real.
“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,” he wrote in the Telegraph.
“Common sense dictates that if the Meteorological Office cannot forecast the next season’s weather with any success, it is ambitious to predict what will happen decades ahead.”
Earlier this year, he also backed drilling for more oil and gas, arguing a windfall tax would only deter companies at a time Britain needs energy.
He said: “We need to be thinking about exploiting every last cubic inch of gas from the North Sea. We are not going for net zero tomorrow – 2050 is a long way off.”
The North Sea Transition Authority has said any new licences will be announced after the official mourning period for the Queen ends on September 20.
Mr Rees-Mogg has suggested the Government drop its commitment to net zero, labelling it the biggest obstacle to removing European regulations after Brexit.
Then there are his views on business, where has largely espoused free market views and called for deregulation.
The minister has also expressed support for zero-hour contracts, and opposed both abortion and same-sex marriage, with the former even in cases of rape or incest.
However, it is worth noting his appointment comes not because of these views, but rather in spite of them.
Mr Rees-Mogg is popular on the backbenches, was a loyalist to former prime minister Boris Johnson and, most importantly, capable of separating his own views from those of his departmental role.
The passionate Brexiteer was happy to wave through Mr Johnson’s Brexit deal despite finding countless faults with predecessor Theresa May’s deal.
He was also a frequent defender of the previous prime minister, minimising ‘Partygate’, and even going as far as dismissing Rishi Sunak resigning by saying losing chancellors “happens”.
Speaking to people in the party, it is this sense of loyalty that is valued, as is his willingness to wade into any culture war required for the Tory cause.
While there is an acceptance Mr Rees-Mogg is gaffe prone and has views out of step with much of the public, his attention to detail and loyalty are deeply valued in the party.
He might have views different to what he advocates, but after months of Tory infighting, Ms Truss has found herself a business secretary who many believe will do as he’s told.
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