A new prime minister and a new government offers the opportunity to take a step back and look at the big picture. And when we’re facing three, deeply interconnected crises – on cost of living, on energy, and on climate – context is important.
On the cost of living scandal: people are being left with impossible choices about how to make ends meet. This is putting serious strain on people’s mental health. I recently heard from a mum of two disabled children in Brighton and Hove, utterly desperate about how her family will cope if they cannot pay their bills.
On energy: last month Ofgem announced the energy price cap is to rise by a catastrophic 80 per cent – to £3,549 from October. Compared to last October’s level, it marks an absolutely monumental 178 per cent increase – and by April next year, it could go as staggeringly high as £7,700. Two-thirds of UK families could be in fuel poverty by the new year.
And on climate: one-third of Pakistan is under water because of unprecedented monsoon rains. More than 1,300 people have died and at least 50 million have been displaced – almost the equivalent of the UK’s entire population. Western Europe, and central and eastern China, have suffered record-breaking heatwaves and droughts. Closer to home, the UK has itself experienced temperatures exceeding 40C for the first time on record. The climate emergency is right here, right now.
This is the reality confronting the next energy secretary in our government.
And, according to our new prime minister, who better to lead us through this triple crisis than Jacob Rees-Mogg – known for arrogant horizontal slouching in the House of Commons, a fanatical obsession with deregulation, and blind devotion to fossil fuels? So, let’s take a closer look at his record – both personal and parliamentary.
He has described the idea of reopening shale gas sites as “quite an interesting opportunity”, comparing the fracking threat to “a rock fall in a disused coalmine”.
In 2014, he was referred to the parliamentary standards watchdog for failing to disclose interests in Somerset Capital – a company with millions of pounds invested in fossil fuel, mining, and tobacco firms when speaking in relevant debates.
And back in 2013, he stated in a truly horrifying opinion piece in the Telegraph: “It is widely accepted that carbon dioxide emissions have risen but the effect on the climate remains much debated while the computer modelling that has been done to date has not proved especially accurate.”
He may doubt reality. So let me explain it to him.
Just today, the Climate Change Committee has written to the new prime minister Liz Truss, saying that new North Sea oil and gas simply won’t have an impact on our energy prices: it takes too long to extract and it gets sold on the international market. Gas caused this crisis – more gas won’t get us out of it.
And that goes for fracking, too. Kwasi Kwarteng himself – the previous energy secretary, and now chancellor – said earlier this year that it would take up to a decade to extract sufficient volumes to make the slightest difference to our energy security.
Instead, as the CCC suggests, we should be boosting domestic production of clean, green, abundant and affordable renewable energy. New renewables are now a staggering nine times cheaper than gas; and with 650 wind and solar projects oven-ready and waiting, there are solutions right at our fingertips.
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This is exactly what the public is crying out for. A poll from Survation out last week found that three-quarters backed investment in solar, 69 per cent want offshore wind, and the same proportion want more insulation. Meanwhile, fracking held a pitiful 4 per cent public support.
No government that’s remotely serious about tackling the twin climate and nature emergencies would even contemplate putting Jacob Rees-Mogg in charge of that portfolio. He’s the worst possible candidate at the worst possible moment. Just when we need forward-looking solutions to modern problems, we have a Victorian politician with antiquated ideals.
Liz Truss’s declaration on the steps of Downing Street that her government would bring “prosperity for ... future generations” couldn’t ring more hollow.