Grant Shapps: What are the green credentials of the secretary for the new Department for Energy Security & Net Zero?
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has dismantled the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) into new departments, naming Grant Shapps as the head of the new Department for Energy Security and Net-Zero. But just how well does the new energy minister fare on green voting matters?
Sunak has opted to split up BEIS, creating a new dedicated energy department as he promised to do during his campaign for Conservative Party leadership against Liz Truss. He has also rolled some of the business-related work of BEIS into a merged Department for Business and Trade and other parts into a new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology.
The new Department for Energy Security and Net-Zero is being headed up by Grant Shapps, its first Secretary of State. Shapps was given the BEIS Secretary role by Sunak shortly after the Prime Minister’s appointment last October. Prior to this, Shapps, who has been an MP since 2015, held Ministerial roles at the Department for International Development and, more recently, the Department for Transport (DfT).
As such, Shapps is now the lynchpin of the Government’s efforts to deliver the net-zero target for 2050 and, off the back of Chris Skidmore’s Net-Zero Review, has a lot of policy suggestions that he will need to get to grips with. But what views and voting history does Shapps hold when it comes to green policy?
According to They Work for You, Shapps has generally voted against climate policies.
The former transport minister voted against measures to place the net-zero target into the “core mission” of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency and voted against calls for the Government to implement plans to “eliminate the substantial majority of transport emissions by 2030”. Shapps voted against requiring a strategy for carbon capture and storage for the energy industry.
Shapps has dismissed claims that the current energy cost crisis is because of measures being introduced to help reach net-zero emissions. Shapps recently spoke to the Bright Blue think tank to outline his stance that green measures can help combat the energy crisis.
“We need to combat the idea that it costs you money to go green. It doesn’t need to, and in fact, it can actually be good value for money as well,” Shapps told the think tank.
“There’s a lot of pressure at the moment on energy bills and we know they’re very high. When you shift your tariffs to a zero-carbon tariff, you might think it is going to cost you more. In fact, it’s very easy to find some of the best and cheapest tariffs on the market which happen to be the ones that come from renewables and nuclear, not from fossil fuels.”
Shapps, in line with his party, supports expanding nuclear and offshore wind. However, he has called onshore renewables an “eyesore” and stated that he would not support a significant expansion. He has vocally challenged arguments that the net-zero transition has contributed to high energy costs, rightly asserting that the majority of the blame lies with gas prices. He has also advocated for greater prioritization of climate resilience for infrastructure including transport systems.
More broadly, Shapps has helped shape climate policy through Ministerial roles in the Department for International Development and Department for Transport (DfT).
Under Shapps, the DfT published the Transport Decarbonisation Plan. Although delayed due to Covid-19, it does, on the surface, fulfil the Department’s promise to outline how all modes of transportation would align with the UK’s 2050 net-zero target.
The DfT also, under Shapps’ leadership, forged ahead with the Jet Zero Partnership and Strategy, designed to deliver a net-zero transition by 2040 for airport operations and domestic flights, and 2050 for international flights. Green campaigners have repeatedly slammed the Government for failing to cap passenger growth in the sector and potentially over-relying on technologies which are not yet at scale commercially, such as alternative fuels. Shapps himself is a supporter of the third runway at Heathrow.
Shapps also came under fire for approving the £27.4bn roads expansion package, which has seen green groups file legal complaints that it is not aligned with the 2050 net-zero commitment.
Transport Action Network (TAN) claimed that Shapps “did not know the carbon impact of the roads programme he was approving and argued he did not need to know”.
Joining Shapps in the newly created department is Jeremy Pocklington, who moves on from a previous role as Permanent Secretary at the Department of Levelling Up.
Pocklington has been named as the Permanent Secretary for Department for Energy Security and Net-Zero. He has long been involved with energy policy in the UK, having served as General of the Markets and Infrastructure Group at the Department for Energy and Climate Change in 2015, before being appointed as Director General for Energy and Security at BEIS.
As Permanent Secretary, Pocklington will be responsible for the Department’s overall leadership and effective day-to-day running. The Climate Change Committee’s chief executive Chris Stark welcomed Pocklington’s appointment, claiming that he “knows the energy issues very well”.
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A key test of acceptable energy policy to mitigate climate change is to permit and encourage on-land wind power. This is the cheapest form of general electricity generation in the UK. Smaller turbines of 50 kW or less are particularly beneficial for owner use directly into their on site electricity supply. Likewise larger turbines to say 500 kW capacity are beneficial at industrial sites. Encouraging such installations is a maker for meaningful policy.
Just as a point of correction: Jeremy Pocklington is a civil servant, not an MP