Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who replaced the new foreign secretary Liz Truss as the UK Government’s lead trade deal negotiator as secretary of state for international trade, was criticised over tweets sent between 2010 and 2012 in which she denied climate change.
However, speaking to The Scotsman, she said rather than having a “road to Damascus” moment of realization, travelling to developing countries in her role as energy minister and witnessing the impact of climate change had led her to “understand better” the problem.
She said: “When I was just an ordinary citizen in those days, it didn’t ring true, I couldn’t get my head round it, IPCC reports were a weird and wonderful thing which just didn’t reach as an ordinary person.
"I think understanding what climate change meant is what got my attention, probably five or six years ago, to understand better and then I paid more attention, honestly.
"I’ve been travelling to developing countries mostly and talking to people where climate shocks are happening and have happened, so rain patterns have changed, heat patterns have changed, not that they are necessarily unliveable with but they are different...and where they’d always done something in a certain way and the changing climate has meant they can’t.”
The minister – who worked alongside COP26 president Alok Sharma during her time as energy minister – said the conference provided a “window of opportunity” to tackle climate change.
She said: "The challenge we have and COP26 is this window of opportunity to really try and get everyone to play collaboratively about how we make that step change so that we can stop the continued problem whilst we also deal with the problems we’ve already created.”
Despite her changed views on climate change, the international trade secretary said she still backed continued extraction at the controversial Cambo oilfield.
Environmental campaigners have said stopping new extraction at the oilfield is crucial in helping the UK tackle its contribution to climate change.
However, Ms Trevelyan said it was an “existing licence” which was needed to reduce the reliance of imports.
She said: “We have one of the most aggressive net zero routes of any developed nation...but as we migrate to clean energies be they renewables, nuclear and so on, we have got to keep our economies going.
"The reason why China isn’t getting rid of its coal mines first is it can’t just shut down its economy and it can’t build alternative clean energies quickly.
"If we shut down our continental shelf here we would import for 20 or 30 years, I want to maintain both the jobs and the Scottish economics that go with the North Sea basin and ask them to clean it up.”
Asked whether she agreed that her government was using the prospect as a “political weapon”, as she had accused the EU of doing with Ireland during Brexit negotiations, and whether the Northern Ireland protocol offered a ready-made solution for an independent Scotland, the Berwick MP said a hard border between Scotland and England in the event of Scottish independence would be a “tragedy”
She said: “There are frameworks that you know, if Scotland went independent it wouldn’t immediately be part of the EU, it would be an independent country on its own to begin with.
"The whole secession question is one that I don’t particularly want to go down because I really hope that we all stay together.
"I just think we are just a really great team and my constituents are across that border left, right and centre, every day of the week, and for me that’s not a hard border, that would be a tragedy.”