Claire Coutinho: Net-zero Minister welcomes ‘sensible adjustments’ to climate policies

Speaking at Conservative Party Conference, taking place in Manchester this week, Coutinho spoke of the need to place the UK at the front of the energy revolution.

“I believe that if we place ourselves at the forefront of this latest energy revolution we will reap the rewards just as we did in the Industrial Revolution 200 years ago,” Coutinho told delegates at the conference. “We will be ambitious. We will be innovative and we will be pragmatic. These are, after all, the attributes that the world associates with Britain.”

Much of Coutinho’s speech, her first since being appointed to the Cabinet, was aimed at the “toxic” policy plans from Labour, arguing that more ambitious targets and spending on net-zero would leave the UK more reliant on the rising costs of energy imports.

Instead, Coutinho, claimed that the Conservative approach to net-zero wouldn’t impact households.

On the sidelines of the conference, Chris Skidmore will hand-deliver a letter signed by more than 1,800 industry professionals urging the Government to take greater action on climate change and commit to a clear climate action plan that can deliver long-term security and certainty for UK businesses.

This comes after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s recent climate policy rollback and the Government’s subsequent approval of the controversial Rosebank oil and gas project in the North Sea, with a capacity to produce 69,000 barrels of oil and 44 million cubic feet of gas per day.

Coutinho, though, welcomed what she called a “sensible adjustment” to the UK’s net-zero plans.

“The UK can benefit – and is benefiting – from the jobs and investment that the energy transition brings. From climate finance to generating new technology, we have a leading role that will see us beat climate change. But conference, we will also ensure we take our own people with us,” Coutinho said.

“Indeed, that is the only way we can achieve this. That is why we have made sensible adjustments to take a new approach to climate policies.”

Nuclear and social housing

To build on this the Net-Zero Secretary unveiled more funding initiatives to boost the UK’s approach to net-zero.

The first was naming the six companies that have been shortlisted to build new small-scale nuclear reactors in the UK, including Rolls Royce.

Additionally, Coutinho confirmed that the Government was allocating a further £80m “to insulate thousands of social homes”, saving families on average £240 each year.

Coutinho was selected as the new Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net-Zero in August. She has been the MP for East Surrey since 2019 and moved on from her post as Minister for Children and took over the net-zero position from Grant Shapps.

Her speech also took aim at Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion, claiming that net-zero “had become a religion” for them and that they failed to understand why the Conservatives were calling on other nations to do more on climate action while the UK scales back its approach.

Coutinho doubled down on the fact that it would be “immoral” to deliver net-zero at a cost to struggling households, despite the Climate Change Committee (CCC) stating that an orderly net-zero transition could be delivered with 0.5-1% of GDP.

“The transition to clean energy should be a cause of optimism for the country. It should mean jobs and opportunities and pride that we are playing our part in a global challenge,” Coutinho added.

“If we are to succeed, Net Zero can’t be something that is done to people, by a privileged elite. We cannot force people to make the wrong decisions for their families. And it is immoral to put forward policies that will impoverish people here, when emissions are rising abroad.”

Earlier this week, MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) raised concern about the “presentation of the debate over net-zero measures as a binary choice between those who oppose net zero policies on the grounds of excessive costs”.

One of the key asks from the EAC is for the Carbon Budget Delivery Plans to be revised in light of Sunak’s policy changes.

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