A new Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy

Following the cessation of Liz Truss’ premiership, Rishi Sunak was this week elected Prime Minister whereupon he appointed experienced Grant Shapps to lead the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.

Time will tell how committed the new Prime Minister is to implementing net zero policies, but the signs are mixed. Rishi Sunak has predicated his authority on delivering the mandate won off the back of the 2019 Manifesto, a key pledge being:

Reaching Net Zero by 2050 with investment in clean energy solutions and green infrastructure to reduce carbon emissions and pollution.’[1]

One of Sunak’s first acts was to reinstate the moratorium on fracking for natural gas, a U-turn predicated upon returning the Conservatives to the promises made in the 2019 Manifesto. However, his recent confirmation that he will not be attending COP27, and a luke warm response to the question about onshore wind in his inaugural PMQs suggests a targeted approach to delivering against the Net Zero pledges.

It’s within this context that Account Executive, Aaron Marchant has taken a look at the new Business Secretary’s track record and views on energy to help us see how he might go about implementing the Conservatives’ 2019 commitment to reach Net Zero by 2050.

Transport Secretary

Between 2019 and 2022, Grant Shapps served as Transport Secretary in Boris Johnson’s government, during which the DfT published the Transport Decarbonisation Plan and moved forward with the Jet Zero Partnership and Strategy, the latter designed to deliver a net-zero transition by 2040 for airport operations and domestic flights and by 2050 for international flights.

As Transport Secretary during the heatwaves of summer 2022, Shapps was well-placed to observe the tangible impacts of climate change on Britain’s transport network. In July 2022, as flights at London Luton Airport were diverted after the runway surface melted, the East Coast Main Line was closed as a precaution, and the West Coast Main Line was blocked by fallen trees brought down by lineside fires, Shapps noted that worse would be yet to come.

We experienced the hottest day ever recorded’, Shapps noted, ‘You have Victorian infrastructure which was just not built with this level of heat in mind’. He continued, ‘We are really genuinely seeing the impact of climate change and I don’t think you can therefore put off the 2050 target to get to net zero.’[2]

Similarly, in the forward of the Transport Decarbonisation Plan, Shapps argued that:

‘…decarbonisation is not just some technocratic process… It’s about taking the filth out of the air and creating cleaner, quieter, healthier places. It’s about a second, green, industrial revolution, creating hundreds of thousands of new, skilled jobs, in some of the proud towns and cities that were the cradle of the first one.[3]

The Plan included commitments to bolster the UK’s nascent electric vehicle market along with plans to deliver zero emission buses, battery and hydrogen trains, and non-zero emission domestic vessels. There was also a pledge for £12 billion in investment for local transport networks as well as further R&D investment through the Transport Research and Innovation Board.

Attitude Toward Renewable Energy

Shapps has been an outspoken proponent of the shift to a low carbon economy, arguing that reliance on imported hydrocarbons must cease and that energy security must be prioritised. Speaking recently at an event at Conservative Party Conference, Shapps noted: ‘if we develop this technology, then not only will we help ourselves, not only will we have that energy independence… but we’ll also have the opportunity to sell it around the world and really be the first nation to get to this incredible green industrial revolution.’[4]

Onshore Wind

A supporter of nuclear energy and offshore wind power, Shapps has nevertheless rejected calls to expand onshore wind, stating:

I don’t favour a vast increase in onshore wind farms for pretty obvious reasons – they sit on the hill there and can create something of an eyesore for communities as well as actual problems of noise as well. So, I think for reasons of environmental protection, the way to go with this is largely, not entirely, but largely off sea. I went out to an installation off the North East coast recently and it is incredibly impressive, not widely known, but Britain has more offshore wind power than any other country in the world and I think we could do with expanding that further still.’[5]

Shapps did, nevertheless, concede that whilst ‘I don’t think you want a huge expansion of onshore wind, there may be cases where it makes sense’.[6]

Net Zero by 2050

In a January 2022 interview for Bright Blue’s Centre Write magazine, Shapps noted that his support for net zero was predicated upon the evidence presented by scientists worldwide. ‘The science around climate change has become stronger and stronger,’ he explained, ‘and that has had the biggest longer-term impact.[7]

Similarly, on the cost of net zero, Shapps rejected the arguments from its opponents and argued:

People who are sceptical about net zero worry that it’s going to add to, as you say, the cost of energy bills. They also worry that the transition will in some way disadvantage us, that we’ll be doing it, but maybe the Chinese will just carry on pumping out carbon. I don’t think you even need to get into the arguments concerning our responsibility as the home of the Industrial Revolution, that we’ve done our fair share of emissions. This is all about taking a lead, jobs, and exports. Using things like our new regulatory freedoms thanks to Brexit, we can steal a march on the world by learning how to decarbonise. For decarbonisation, we want to be the pilots, not the passengers. …If we do that right, we get the highly paid jobs, and we get the technology, which we then export, and everybody wins…When I look at, for example, our approach to decarbonising vehicles, in less than eight years time, you won’t be able to buy pure diesel or petrol cars in this country. America is way behind. This gives us a chance, this gives us an opportunity. Let’s make sure we take it.’[8]

Shapps concluded that the public would continue to support the green transition if they saw tangible evidence of the low costs associated with a low carbon economy: ‘We need to combat the idea that it costs you money to go green. It doesn’t need to, and in fact, it can actually be good value for money as well.’[9]

Next Steps

The passage of the Energy Prices Act (2022) puts in place the ‘energy price guarantee’, which will limit the cost of electricity and gas per unit for domestic consumers. Subsequently, one of Shapps’ first tests as Business Secretary will be to determine the fate of the stalled Energy Security Bill, a piece of legislation designed to implement many of the measures outlined in the Energy Security Strategy.

Three years after its codification into British statute, and three prime ministers later, Net Zero remains a crucial issue which continues to dominate the political ecosphere.



[1] Conservative and Unionist Party, Our Plan | Conservative Manifesto 2019, https://www.conservatives.com/our-plan

[2] RailTech, ‘Britain faces decades of climate disruption says minister in the hot seat’, 20 July 2022, https://www.railtech.com/all/2022/07/20/britain-faces-decades-of-climate-disruption-says-minister-in-the-hot-seat/?gdpr=accept

[3] Department for Transport, Decarbonising Transport: A Better, Greener Britain, July 2021, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1009448/decarbonising-transport-a-better-greener-britain.pdf

[4] Grant Shapps, Conservative Environment Network, Green Global Britain Reception, 3 October 2022, https://twitter.com/CEN_HQ/status/1576851416777338880

[5] Sky News, ‘Grant Shapps says he does not support ‘a vast increase’ in onshore wind farms ahead of the energy security strategy reveal next week’, 4 April 2022, https://news.sky.com/story/grant-shapps-says-he-does-not-support-a-vast-increase-in-onshore-wind-farms-ahead-of-the-energy-security-strategy-reveal-next-week-12581224

[6] Ibid.

[7] Bright Blue, Centre Write, ‘Favourable Climate?’, January 2022, http://www.brightblue.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Favourable-climate.pdf, p.23.

[8] Ibid, p.24.

[9] Ibid, p.25.