Energy Secretary Grant Shapps has warned senior Conservatives who are urging Rishi Sunak to abandon green policies that the government’s net-zero pledge remains vital.
The Cabinet minister said the global climate crisis posed a threat to Britain’s security and energy supply as he responded to Tory MPs calling for the Number 10 to scrap measures deemed too costly.
“Without net zero, we cannot have global security,” Shapps said Politically. “There is no global security when millions of people have to leave their homes due to weather conditions.”
He also unveiled plans for the UK to host a global energy security summit next year, hinting that China could be invited and saying he wanted the conference to be “inclusive”.
Oil giants like Qatar and Saudi Arabia should be “in the room” at what he said is a “real, tough energy security conference where we talk about the realities of the world we live in.”
On both issues, however, he faced immediate backlash from Tory MPs.
Former Business Secretary Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg said The Independent Mr Shapps was “fundamentally wrong” and insisted that the UK made an important contribution to global security “through its economic strength”. “The rush to net zero at the expense of the economy poses a threat to global security,” he said.
On China, he added: “I think it’s eccentric to suggest that China is enhancing our security in any way.”
Mr Sunak has appeared to have changed his tone on green politics after his party unexpectedly held onto their seats in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, taking advantage of backlash against the London Mayor’s proposal to extend the ulez system, which was being pushed by some motorists charges a fee to prevent air pollution control.
The Prime Minister – who has vowed to stand with motorists and said “banning things” is not the right approach – despite opposition from environmentalists and environmentalists, also gave the green light to 100 new licenses for oil and gas exploration and – production in the North Sea Green Tories.
Some Tory backbenchers have urged Mr Sunak to go further and drop plans to ban new oil boilers by 2026 and new petrol and diesel vehicles from 2030.
But Mr Shapps has sent a strong signal that he believes in moving away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy, arguing that it is an essential part of the promise to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The energy secretary said that “part of the answer” to energy supply problems lies in “the need for diversification from fossil fuels”. He added, “More diversity could actually give us a lot more security.”
He said: “Imagine if the UK hadn’t gone from less than 7 per cent renewable energy to – as we see in the first quarter of 2023 – 47 per cent renewable energy. Imagine if that hadn’t happened and we went into the energy shock. What impact would it have had?”
Mr Shapps announced plans for the UK to host an international energy security summit next year, planning to do so in spring 2024, to coincide with the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Referring to the need to break away from dependence on fossil fuels, he said: “[The energy security summit] Ultimately it will be about reaching net zero. From an energy security perspective, it is important that we do both.”
Defending the new licenses, he added, “We’re not going to do this while kidding our people.” We’re going to do it and take our people with us. That means accessing our own oil and gas instead of importing it [it from] Other.”
Mr Sunak is under pressure from two warring Tory factions: the Conservative Environment Network, whose members are pushing for stronger action on climate change, and the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, which is campaigning for a softening of environmental policies.
Net Zero Skeptics want the Prime Minister to build on the success of the anti-Ulez by-election result in Uxbridge by abandoning Boris Johnson’s policy of banning the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles from 2030.
He also faces a rebellion against the de facto ban on oil boilers from 2026, which will particularly affect those living in off-grid homes in the countryside. Former Environment Secretary George Eustice described the policy as “ulez for rural communities”.
Former Home Secretary Priti Patel said the government should suspend all of its climate targets, while Sir Jacob said the country “cannot afford net zero as currently envisaged”.
Mr Sunak has angered the Green Tories in recent weeks after expressing sympathy for those concerned about the cost of climate policy, saying he wants families to find net zero Don’t “bother” emissions.
Former Energy Secretary Chris Skidmore, who led the government’s net-zero review, said the decision to issue 100 new fossil fuel licenses was “the wrong decision at the wrong time” and warned the Prime Minister he was risking on to be on the “wrong side of history”. .
And Tory colleague Zac Goldsmith told the BBC this week that he was “very tempted” to support Labor in the next general election because the government could not meet its net-zero commitments.
Lord Goldsmith, a staunch Johnson ally, recently resigned in exasperation from Mr Sunak’s government after he accused the Prime Minister of being “disinterested” in the climate emergency.
Rob Ford, Professor of Politics at Manchester University, recounted Politically that a reversal of the net-zero policy “would cost more votes than it will win” because “the only people who will pay attention are those who don’t like it”.