Liz Truss shows little sign she is ready to meet big environmental challenges

The new PM has not set out plans for reducing energy waste; instead she has talked of more oil and gas

Liz Truss faces a daunting array of environmental crises, from energy supply to sewage spills on British beaches, with little to show that she has the inclination to take them on.

Ben Goldsmith, the chair of the Conservative Environment Network, and a longtime green Tory who was a strong supporter of Boris Johnson, said of the UK’s new prime minister and her defeated rival: “Neither Truss nor Sunak has been known for their passion for nature. Neither has made a name for themselves as an environmental leader.”

There is a danger of blackouts this winter, amid soaring energy prices and a potential supply crunch, but Truss has set her face firmly against any form of energy rationing and has so far refused to countenance the idea that consumers must change their behaviour to reduce energy waste. She has not yet set out plans for insulating homes, which experts have said must form the key part of any strategy to reduce energy bills, and is against new onshore wind and solar farms.

Instead, Truss has talked of squeezing more production from the North Sea and licensing new oil and gas fields, though these would take years or decades to come on stream.

Mike Childs, the head of policy at Friends of the Earth, told the Guardian: “[Truss] is facing an in-tray overflowing with immediate and existential threats: the energy crisis, the accelerating climate emergency, an emerging biodiversity crisis, and a war in Europe.

“None of these can be solved by pandering to those in her party who are advocating environmental deregulation and new gas, oil and coal extraction. These will do little to tackle the energy crisis and will simply keep our economy locked into costly and polluting fossil fuels for decades to come.”

He called for measures that would reduce energy waste and cut people’s energy bills in the short term, such as home insulation. “She must recognise that the health of the economy and people’s wellbeing are intrinsically linked to the health of the environment,” he said. “Among her first decisions must be a commitment to fund a nationwide street-by-street home insulation programme and to remove barriers holding back cheap onshore wind and solar energy. She must also rule out fracking, new coalmines and more North Sea oil and gas extraction.”

Truss is likely to appoint Jacob Rees-Mogg, who is from the right of the Conservative party, has voiced climate scepticism in the past, favours fracking and is usually against government intervention in the markets, as the business secretary.

Shaun Spiers, the executive director of the Green Alliance thinktank, said: “That could be very difficult. It matters who is in the cabinet. Without strong proponents, the net zero agenda will be in danger.”

During the campaign, Truss’s team heavily leaked plans to deregulate business, which are likely to include environmental regulations. Most of the UK’s existing green regulations come from EU law, and many of them were pushed through in Brussels with UK support while an EU member.

Tom Burke, the co-founder of the thinktank E3G, warned that this dismantling was likely to be carried out by stealth. “They know that voters want high environmental standards, so they have to do it by stealth, and that’s what Truss is driving towards.”

Food price rises will add to consumer woes, and Truss will face pressure to row back on changes to farm subsidies that would offer incentives to farmers to nurture soils and deliver environmental benefits alongside their food production. Goldsmith said it would be a mistake to reduce the incentives for farmers to protect wildlife and the countryside: “You can do both; you can produce food and take care of the landscape.”

Many green campaigners remember Truss as secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs from 2014 to 2016. Privately, they say she made little impact, other than to agree to cuts to the department’s budget that further reduced enforcement of environmental regulation, including of sewage polluting the UK’s waterways.

Pat Venditti, the interim executive director of Greenpeace UK, urged Truss to stick to the commitments that had been made in the last general election: “This Conservative government was elected on a manifesto that committed it to reaching net zero, ‘leading a new green industrial revolution’ and rolling out the ‘most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth’,” he said. “There’s no mandate and no public support to roll back on these commitments. Bolder climate action and stronger nature protection is the only way forward for a cleaner, fairer and more affordable society for everyone.”


Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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