Sunak rings changes on environment and U-turns on COP27 attendance

1st November 2022

New prime minister Rishi Sunak has reinstated the government’s ban on fracking and returned to the Conservative Party’s manifesto commitment in 2019.

The manifesto had pledged to rule out changes to England’s planning system and promised not to support fracking “unless the science shows categorically that it can be done safely”.

Previous prime minister Liz Truss’s decision to overturn the ban led to chaos in Parliament and a backbench rebellion, triggering her departure from 10 Downing Street. In one of his first moves at the parliamentary dispatch box, Sunak told MPs that the government would “stand by the manifesto” on fracking.

The move comes as the government quietly dropped plans to appeal a July High Court ruling that found the government’s net-zero strategy was unlawful. Environmental lawyers from ClientEarth, Friends of the Earth and the Good Law Project had successfully argued that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy had failed to show how its policies will curb emissions in line with legally binding targets during the next decade.

Sunak also rang the changes among his new cabinet. Thérèse Coffey replaces Ranil Jayawardena as environment secretary. Jayawardena, who resigned on Sunak’s accession, had promoted a range of environmental policy changes that outraged conservation groups, leading them to accuse the government of an "attack on nature”. Coffey, who was previously deputy prime minister and health secretary, was recycling minister at Defra from 2016–19 and was involved in shaping the Resources and Waste Strategy, which has since stalled.

Former transport secretary and home secretary Grant Shapps has replaced the outgoing Jacob Rees-Mogg as business and energy secretary, with the crucial role of overseeing the UK's net-zero agenda and contending with the energy crisis. Graham Stuart remains as climate minister.

Alok Sharma will stay on as COP26 president for the final few weeks before Egypt takes over the presidency at COP27, but will no longer attend cabinet. Sunak also reversed his original decision not to attend COP27 after acknowledging that there would be “no long-term prosperity without action on climate change”.

Sam Hall, director of the Conservative Environment Network, which represents more than 100 Tory MPs, called on Sunak to "end the uncertainty about the direction of the government's environmental policy and recommit to ambitious action on climate change and nature loss".
Image credit | Shutterstock


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