Green groups are calling on the new Business Secretary Grant Shapps to ban fracking while his appointment has been broadly met with relief that he isn’t Jacob Rees-Mogg but concern that he may represent business as usual.
“Fracking is a red herring,” the think tank Green Alliance said in its list of priorities for the new government. “The UK should focus on electrification of the economy, not on further fossil fuel dependence.”
Ed Matthew, campaigns director at E3G, an independent think tank that aims to accelerate a global transition to a low-carbon future, said while it was too early to speculate what decisions the government might make in the coming days and weeks he said it would be “insane” to push through fracking.
“That vote literally tore the Conservative MPs apart and was one of the triggers for the downfall of Liz Truss,” he said. “For them to continue with that mission to re-open fracking would not only be super divisive but it would significantly risk their chances of being re-elected.”
Joe Tetlow senior political adviser, at the think tank Green Alliance, said Mr Shapps was known for his spreadsheets in Westminster “so he’ll know another rebellion on fracking is not a risk worth taking.”
“The reality is that the government needs local communities to approve fracking, and they don’t, so it isn’t going to get through anyway,” he added.
Only time will tell how the government will respond to a host of issues they’ve inherited from the previous administration from fracking to doubling down on north sea oil and gas to a bill that aims to scrap remaining EU laws, hundreds of which protect the natural world.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s views on the importance of further exploration of the North Sea were made clear as chancellor but less is known about Mr Shapp’s views on energy.
Speaking at the Conservative party conference earlier this month, he told Conservative environmentalists that “if there’s one thing for certain we cannot carry on relying on, as the world has done so many times, on hydrocarbons.”
He championed the green industrial revolution in Britain and said that reaching net zero by 2050 was in the DNA of the Conservative party.
But he has also called onshore wind turbines an “eyesore,” and in the past reportedly said policies designed to reduce Britain’s carbon dioxide emissions had made the electricity generating sector less reliable and backed a report that warned of Christmas blackouts but reportedly included “misleading” claims.
The Sunak-backer became an MP in 2005 and previously served as Secretary of State for Transport under Boris Johnson, where his record has been broadly described as pro-environment. He was transport secretary when the government announced a plan to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2035, and later when it brought the deadline forward to 2030.
“At DfT, he oversaw the Transport Decarbonisation Plan, Jet Zero Strategy, uplifts in funding for active travel and was generally seen as pro-environment, but in a quite tech-optimist way,” said Mr Tetlow, of Green Alliance.
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More broadly Mr Shapps has generally voted with the government and against measures to prevent climate change, according to the website They Work For You. Last week, he voted against a Labour attempt to ban the return of fracking after Conservative MPs were ordered to vote the bill down or be stripped of the party whip.
And in the past he voted not to ban the burning of certain types of vegetation in almost all upland areas with peat soils in England and not to call on the government to implement a plan to eliminate the majority of transport emissions by 2030 while he was transport secretary.
Shadow Climate and Net Zero Secretary, Ed Miliband, said Mr Shapps was part of twelve years of Conservative “failure” that has contributed to energy insecurity and soaring energy bills.
While Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, told The Independent while she was glad to see “pro-fracking” Mr Rees-Mogg go it was “outrageous” that Mr Shapps, who said he thinks the effective block on onshore wind turbines be kept in place, is now in charge.
It remains to be seen how he will approach his new role.
The business department declined to comment and said more information on policies would be provided in due course.