What Theresa May’s Cabinet Reshuffle Means for Energy and Climate Change

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After a day of speculation about who would move where, prime minister Theresa May has revealed her new cabinet - and like the majority of departments, not much has changed for the climate and energy sector.

Key Appointments

  • Greg Clark stays as secretary of state for the department of business, energy and industrial strategy (BEIS)
  • Climate minister Claire Perry remains in her role, but will now attend cabinet
  • Environment secretary Michael Gove, international trade secretary Liam Fox, and foreign secretary Boris Johnson, all kept their jobs

After much speculation, BEIS secretary of state Greg Clark today kept his role as secretary of state for BEIS. Clark, the MP for Tunbridge Wells, took on the role of secretary of state for the newly created BEIS in the summer 2016.

The biggest change was for climate change minister Claire Perry who won a slight promotion and will now attend cabinet meetings as minister of state at the department for business, energy and industrial strategy (BEIS).

Alongside reporting to the cabinet, her role at BEIS is expected to stay much the same — although the exact details of the new position have not yet been made clear.

If Perry keeps her focus on climate change, it would mean the issue will be represented by a minister with that specific brief at cabinet level for the first time since the old department of energy and climate change was disbanded in July 2016.

Perry, the MP for Devizes in Wiltshire since 2010, was appointed climate minister in June last year. Having campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU, Perry had been rumoured to be up for a more substantial promotion in May’s cabinet reshuffle.

Perry has made a couple of notable announcements during her seven months as climate minister.

In October 2017, the department published the long-awaited Clean Growth Strategy, which set out how the government hopes to meet its climate targets and reduce emissions. Analysts have warned that new policies “need to progress quickly” if the government is going to meet its carbon budgets.

In November, Perry joined Canada’s minister of environment Catherine McKenna at the UN climate talks in Bonn to announce the launch of the Powering Past Coal Alliance.

The alliance of countries, states and regions committed to closing coal power plants that don't have carbon capture and storage technology was largely welcomed in Bonn. But environmentalists warned the announcement was “only the start of the journey”, and urged countries to specifiy how they would reduce their reliance on coal.

Last week, the UK government detailed its coal phase out plan, saying it will legislate to limit power plants to 450 grams of carbon dioxide for each kilowatt hour of electricity produced — effectively banning coal power planst that are not fitted with carbon capture and storage technology.

The plan was met with cautious optimism by environmentalists, though it was seen as “a missed opportunity” to remove coal generation from the UK's energy mix at an earlier date.

Beyond BEIS

In one of the few other changes at cabinet level, David Lidington left his role as justice minister to replace Damian Green as cabinet office minister.

A quick look at Lidington’s early career history shows he has an old connections with the fossil fuel industry, having worked for oil major BP and mining giant Rio Tinto.

Meanwhile, the ‘big beasts' of Theresa May’s cabinet all kept their jobs.

As expected, environment secretary Michael Gove remained in post. Gove has described himself as a “shy green” and came out against U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement. He told the Conservative party conference last year that he believed climate change was a serious problem, but that that pursuing climate policy must not come “at the expense of the economic growth”.

After some speculation that he may get shuffled, foreign secretary Boris Johnson also remained in post.  Johnson has flirted with climate science denial in the past, conflating cold weather with an absence of evidence of climate change. Johnson is also a supporter of the Institute for Free Trade think tank, run by Daniel Hannan - a Tory MEP who is skeptical about the need for robust climate policy.

International trade secretary Liam Fox also kept his job. Fox sits at the heart of a transatlantic network of politicians and lobbyists pushing climate disinformation in the name of free trade. During his first post-Brexit trip to the United States, less than two weeks after being appointed international trade secretary, Fox met with the climate science denying neoconservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation. Fox also met with two neoconservative think tanks during his first trip to the United States after the 2017 general election.

Current home secretary and former head of the now defunct department of energy and climate change (DECC), Amber Rudd, also stayed put. In her former role she was accused of misleading Parliament about the state of the country’s renewable energy target as the chasm between her declared commitments to climate change and her loyalty to an austerity-plus-fracking agenda grew.  While DECC secretary, Rudd also failed to declare that her PR boss brother represented a company seeking the department’s planning permission for a gas storage facility.

Rudd’s energy minister in DECC, and now leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, also remained in her role. The Independent reported that in October 2015, Leadsom told a parliamentary inquiry that when she took up her role as energy minister in May 2015 she had to question whether climate change was real because she was unsure. However, she has said that she is now “completely persuaded” on climate change.

Communities secretary Sajid Javid has also stayed in his post, with a slightly expanded portfolio. In 2016, Javid intervened to permit shale gas company Cuadrilla Resource’s plans to frack at its Preston New Road site, overruling the local council.

Image: Number 10/Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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