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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

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‘Deeply worrying’: Liz Truss’ pick for Britain’s energy chief slammed by climate campaigners


Jacob Rees-Mogg photographed in London on Sept. 7, 2022. The lawmaker recently called for more fossil fuel extraction from the North Sea.

Carl Court | Getty Images News | Getty Images

LONDON — The U.K.’s new secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy is a lawmaker who recently called for more fossil fuel extraction from the North Sea and described fracking as an “interesting opportunity.”

Jacob-Rees Mogg, who is the MP for North East Somerset in the southwest of England, was confirmed in his role on Tuesday evening.

During a phone in with radio station LBC back in April, and prior to his position in new Prime Minister Liz Truss’ cabinet, Rees-Mogg offered some insight into how he may look to shape policy in the months ahead.

“We need to be thinking about extracting every last cubic inch of gas from the North Sea because we want security of supply,” he said.

“But 2050 is a long time off,” he added, referring to the U.K.’s legally binding goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by the middle of this century.

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“We’re not trying to become net-zero tomorrow, and we are going to need fossil fuels in the interim, and we should use ours, that we have got available,” Rees-Mogg said.

He later doubled down on the need for fossil fuels, stating that “we want to get oil out of the North Sea, we want to get more gas out of the North Sea.”

And on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, Rees-Mogg said, “if we’re sitting on tons of gas, that seems quite an interesting opportunity.”

Such a viewpoint stands in stark contrast to the views expressed by high-profile figures such as the U.N. Secretary General, Antonio Guterres.

Back in June, Guterres slammed new funding for fossil fuel exploration, describing it as “delusional” and calling for an abandonment of fossil fuel finance.

Going nuclear

In his phone in with LBC, Rees-Mogg said he was “very much in favor of going nuclear” and “very interested by … modular nuclear reactors.”

Offshore wind, he said, was “providing an increasing part of our supply, and that is important, but you don’t always know where the wind is going to blow, that is the problem, whereas nuclear provides baseload.”

Rees-Mogg has also appeared skeptical about the importance of acting now when it comes to rolling out renewables and tackling climate change. Speaking to ChatPolitics in 2014, for instance, he said he “would like my constituents to have cheap energy rather more than I would like them to have windmills.”

Asked about the climate and global warming, he offered up the following take. “I’m all in favor of long-term policy making, but I think trying to forecast the climate for a thousand years and what little steps you make now having the ability to change it is unrealistic, and I think the cost of it is probably unaffordable. You need to look at ameliorating the consequences of anything that may happen.”

Rees-Mogg’s views have already prompted a barrage of criticism from environmental organizations.

Dave Timms, head of political affairs at Friends of the Earth, said putting Rees-Mogg in charge of energy policy was “deeply worrying for anyone concerned about the deepening climate emergency, solving the cost-of-living crisis and keeping our fuel bills down for good.”

Elsewhere, Greenpeace UK’s head of politics, Rebecca Newsom, described Rees-Mogg as being “the last person who should be in charge of the energy brief, at the worst possible moment.”

CNBC contacted the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy for comment, but did not receive a response ahead of this story’s publication.

Energy crisis

Rees-Mogg is part of the cabinet assembled by the U.K.’s new Prime Minister, Liz Truss.

Truss is assuming office at a time of significant turmoil and uncertainty in energy markets, with many European countries attempting to wean themselves off Russian fossil fuels following the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine.  

During an interview with the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg over the weekend, Truss provided an insight into her views on the matter.

“We, actually, as a country, rely relatively little on gas from Russia,” she said, noting that this was not the case in Europe.

It was important, she went on to argue, “that we develop renewables, we develop nuclear, that we work with our European partners to develop alternative forms of energy.”

“It’s also very important we use the resources in the North Sea,” Truss, who was speaking before her victory in the Conservative Party’s leadership contest was announced, said.

“There’s more we can do to exploit current gas fields. I support exploring fracking in parts of the United Kingdom, where that can be done.”

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