Voices: Caroline Lucas: Thank you, Rishi Sunak – the words I never thought I’d say

“Who doesn’t like fracking?” former energy secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg asked rhetorically at the Conservative Party conference earlier this month. “The socialists, and Caroline Lucas”, he replied smugly to himself.

Well, I for one am glad that there’s another person Rees-Mogg can add to his list – the new prime minister, Rishi Sunak. In response to my question at Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday lunchtime, the new PM confirmed that he would stick to the Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto pledge to maintain the moratorium on the climate-wrecking fracking industry.

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s career as energy secretary ended this week. We know that this fossil fuel zealot was a nightmare appointment by former prime minister Liz Truss, and should never have been anywhere near the brief. So it is a relief that his dangerous, destructive and deeply unpopular plan to frack the nation looks like it’s dead in the water. Let me explain why.

The pro-fracking lobby often argues that we need to frack in order to deliver energy security, and counteract the supply issues caused by Vladimir Putin’s devastating war in Ukraine. That war has certainly exacerbated the situation we find ourselves in – but it is fundamentally one caused by our dependence on gas – and one which won’t be solved by extracting yet more of it. And it would take up to a decade for fracking to make even the smallest dent in contributing to our country’s energy security – far from the immediate solution that its advocates claim.

We are often sold the lie that fracking will reduce people’s energy bills – which, during a cost of living scandal, is certainly an enticing prospect. Yet fracking would do no such thing. Any new shale gas would simply be sold on international markets at global prices, so would make no tangible difference to energy bills here in the UK at all.

Rees-Mogg argued in 2014: “I would like my constituents to have cheap energy rather more than I would like them to have windmills.” The energy from those wind turbines is now nine times cheaper than the gas he is so desperate to dig up out of the ground.

Some have argued that fracking here in the UK would replace higher-emission gas imports from abroad. But the climate change committee has stated that this depends entirely on how much could feasibly be extracted, which is unknown – and the fact remains that global emissions will still increase, as exporter countries such as Qatar and Norway won’t reduce their own gas extraction by an equivalent amount. So it’s clear that our planet has always been firmly against fracking too.

I’ve been calling for a ban on fracking for years – ever since I was arrested at a fracking protest in Sussex back in 2013. But Sunak didn’t just pay attention to me – he listened to dozens of his own Tory backbenchers, who just last week stood up in the House of Commons one by one to argue and vote against the government’s fracking plans.

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And people up and down the country have been voicing their opposition too. Local communities from Lancashire to Fermanagh have been challenging fracking for a decade, and every single poll shows that the public are strongly opposed – and no wonder, when the British Geological Survey has categorically not found evidence that it can be done safely.

But just because common sense has prevailed on this one occasion, it doesn’t mean that our government has a climate record to be proud of. We’ve still seen swathes of new climate-wrecking oil and gas licences approved, a possible coal mine in Cumbria in the pipeline, and our Cop26 president no longer has a seat at the cabinet table. And I’m still appalled that the tearing up of more than 570 environmental protections in the so-called “Brexit Freedoms Bill” is going full steam ahead.

If Sunak is to become a truly green prime minister, one thing is certain: he must commit to keeping fossil fuels in the ground for good. And if he backtracks, we’re not going to let him ever forget it.

Caroline Lucas is the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion