Liz Truss to be next Prime Minister and vows to ‘deal’ with the energy crisis

It’s official: Liz Truss will become the 80th Prime Minister in the UK’s history and has pledged to work immediately to forge a plan to combat the energy crisis. However, concerns persist that this may open the door to more oil and gas exploration and more red tape for solar.

Liz Truss to be next Prime Minister and vows to ‘deal’ with the energy crisis

Truss was named as the successor to Boris Johnson at midday on Monday (5 September) by Sir Graham Brady, winning by 81,326 votes to Rishi Sunak’s 60,399.

Truss’s immediate focus points will be on responding to Russia’s war in Ukraine and preparing for a potential snap election, one which will likely revolve heavily around the cost of living crisis.

Truss thanked competitor Rishi Sunak for a hard-fought campaign and Boris Johnson for “getting Brexit done”.

“I know that our beliefs resonate with the British people,” Truss said. “As your party leader I intend to deliver what we promised voters right across our great country. I have bold plans to cut taxes, deliver on the energy crisis, deal with energy bills and the long-term issues we have with energy supply.”

Last week, Ofgem raised the energy price cap, pushing the average household energy gas and electricity bills to more than £3,500 annually, prompting fresh calls for urgent policy intervention.

As part of her campaign bid, Truss hinted that she may freeze energy prices to help households, and has stated that her team will deliver an energy plan within weeks.

While Truss has experience in key green policy roles, her advocacy for more oil and gas exploration is unlikely to sit well with the green economy. Here, edie rounds up the green credentials of the next Prime Minister.

Green Credentials

Truss is a former Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs and has served in numerous cabinet roles, including International Trade Secretary and Environment Secretary. She has previously stood in the 2001 and 2005 general elections.

As part of her leadership bid, Truss promised to unveil plans to deal with the energy crisis within her first seven days as Prime Minister.

Truss, who was named as the new Prime Minister on Monday, told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg that she would “act immediately” to help with bills. However, little detail on how this would be achieved has been provided.

Worryingly, Truss appears to favour fracking and gas exploration in order to combat the issue.

Truss has been very pro-fossil-fuel and largely anti-renewables during her campaign, particularly solar. Truss, who worked for Shell between 1996 and 2000, has indicated that she is against the current windfall tax on oil and gas majors and stated that she would allow fracking in areas where local communities support it. She has also made headlines this week with talk of approving more than 100 new oil and gas licenses in the North Sea – a proposal slammed by climate scientists.

During the leadership campaign, Truss has been vocal of her displeasure around solar farms, labelling them as “depressing sights” and “paraphernalia”. However, green groups have been quick to criticise these claims.

While Truss appears to favour fossil fuels in the short-term she does have experience across numerous green policy roles.

During her time as Environment Secretary, Truss introduced the controversial cuts to subsidies to solar farms, criticising them as a “blight” on the UK’s natural landscape. Truss also claimed that solar farms hindered food production. According to DeSmog, these policies were not “backed up by any evidence from her department”.

Truss has been criticised for overseas trips, most recently for failing to distance the UK from trade deals with Gulf states accused of human rights abuses. While chief secretary to the Treasury in 2018, Truss also met with lobby groups linked to climate change denial.

More recently, Truss has faced criticism from more than 200 NGOs over proposed reforms to international development plans. Truss is reported to have ordered changes in the way the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) spends aid funding, with less focus given to health, climate change and conflict prevention. NGOs criticised the plans, claiming it “will undermine the UK’s ability to play our part globally in tackling urgent challenges”.

Truss, has, however, commonly spoken for the need to act on the climate crisis, and at the Party Hustings on 17 July, said she’d attend COP27 and the 15th biodiversity COP in a bid to showcase Britain as a leader on the world stage.

The former Environment minister recently told the Conservative Environment Network (CEN) at that Hustings event that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has strengthened the case for the UK to introduce policies focused on energy security.

However, partly in response to the energy crisis, Truss has suggested that she would pause some green funding initiatives in order to increase North Sea gas extraction. During an interview with The Spectator, Truss said she may introduce a “temporary moratorium on the green energy levy to enable businesses and industry to thrive while looking at the best way of delivering net-zero”.

While things may look bleak, green advocates may find solace in the fact that, in general, Conservative voters want the next Prime Minister to champion efforts to reach net-zero, rather than scale them back.

In July this year, a survey conducted by consultancy Public First and think-tank Onward, polled more than 6,500 adults based in the UK. Those polled were either Conservative voters or those classed as ‘undecided’ voters.

A quarter of the Conservative voters to have responded to the survey said they would not vote for the Party if it removed the UK’s flagship legal commitment to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

Among those classed as ‘undecided’ voters who would consider ticking the Tory box at the next general election, 51% said they would be more likely to vote for the Party if the new leader kept the existing focus on net-zero. In contrast, just 26% said a rollback of net-zero ambitions would make them more likely to vote Conservative.

With rumours swirling that a snap election is just around the corner, Truss and her Cabinet members may well focus on net-zero in order to face up to Labour’s plans for the net-zero transition.

Industry reaction

Dave Timms, head of political affairs at Friends of the Earth, said: “As our new prime minister, Liz Truss will have to get in step with the majority of people who are dreading a devastating winter of soaring fuel and food bills, amid a spiralling cost of living crisis. This means putting people and the planet first by strengthening the windfall tax on the excess profits of oil and gas giants to fund a package of emergency support and energy efficiency measures.

“It’s saying no to lifting the ban on fracking, no to new coal and no to exploiting more North Sea oil and gas. These out of touch, short-sighted proposals will do little to tackle the energy crisis and will only lock us into expensive and polluting fossil fuels for decades to come.

“Truss has the solutions to address both the energy and climate crises at her fingertips. Her first actions must be immediate targeted support and investing in a nationwide, street-by-street home insulation programme, which could save millions of people £1,000 or more on their energy bills. Energy efficiency measures and cheap renewables are the best fixes for boosting energy security and bringing down fuel bills – they’re quick to develop and are universally popular with the public.”

Dr Nina Skorupska CBE, Chief Executive of the Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology (REA), said: “We welcome the new Prime Minister to her role and look forward to working with her closely to deliver the solutions to the energy crisis.

“We have been clear for some time – there needs to be substantive upfront support for households and businesses for the bills they will be required to pay, to help them get through an incredibly challenging winter. However, the root cause of the problem – the reliance on price volatile fossil fuels, particularly gas – needs to be tackled in parallel. That means accelerating the deployment of renewable energy; making homes and buildings more energy efficient; and providing real proactivity and focus to deliver well designed market reforms to protect consumers from the prices being seen in international fossil fuel markets.

“As we have warned throughout the leadership contest, knee jerk and ill-thought out cuts to renewable energy investment schemes will simply store up problems for the future, and save relatively little in the short-term. To deliver an energy future that is independent, secure and stable, we need to accelerate renewable energy deployment. That is how we solve this crisis.”

Tanya Steele, CEO of WWF, said: “As Liz Truss steps into office after a summer of fires in the Amazon, catastrophic floods in Pakistan and dangerously soaring temperatures in the UK, the climate and nature crisis must not be reshuffled off to the sidelines.

“The government she now leads was elected with a promise to reach net zero and a claim of the greenest manifesto ever. But it is not on track to deliver, and we are running out of time. Urgent action now will improve energy security, help tackle the cost of living crisis, and create green jobs and investment across the country. We need firm commitments from Liz Truss that she will help bring our world back to life so that people, nature and the economy can thrive.”

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