Climate campaigners say 'good riddance' to Grant - and call on new energy secretary to step up net zero game
Greenpeace UK says they don't envy the new energy and net zero secretary's job
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Cabinet had a mini-reshuffle on Thursday (31 August), after defence secretary Ben Wallace announced his resignation. The Prime Minister has appointed current energy secretary Grant Shapps to fill his post, with education minister Claire Coutinho taking up the government's energy and net zero portfolio.
On X - formerly known as Twitter - Coutinho said she was "delighted" to have been appointed Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero. "I will work with the Prime Minister to safeguard our energy security, reduce bills for families, and build cleaner, cheaper, homegrown energy," she posted.
Her appointment has been met with mixed reaction from both opposition, and from environmental advocates invested in the UK's transition to net zero greenhouse gas emissions - a key part of her new role.
In a press statement, Labour said that according to TheyWorkForYou, Claire Coutinho has "generally voted against measures to prevent climate change", voting against measures to tackle climate change 10 times between 2020 and 2022.
Coutinho voted against a ban on fracking in October 2022, against a Labour amendment to the Queen’s Speech in May 2022 that would have imposed a windfall tax on oil and gas firms, and voted against Labour’s motion to cut the rate of VAT for household energy bills in January 2022.
Environmental advocacy groups remained hopeful. Responding to news of her appointment, head of political affairs at Friends of the Earth Dave Timms said "good riddance" to her predecessor, Grant Shapps.
"He seemed to be more concerned with playing childish politics on social media than the serious policies needed to address the greatest challenge of our time," he said. "He has promoted new drilling for oil and gas against the advice of his own climate advisors, allowed speculation about whether vital deadlines for the transition to electric vehicles and heat pumps would be stuck to, and failed to invest in home insulation."
The country needed a serious secretary of state, Mr Timms said, one that would "step up to give the certainty and support that businesses and people need to invest in the changes that will cut both emissions and the cost of living".
"We hope Claire Coutinho will be that person," he added.
Greenpeace UK policy director Doug Parr said he doesn't envy the new energy secretary's job. "She's picked up the baton for the final leg of a relay where her fellow runners have mostly been walking, sometimes backwards."
Her department had "a huge amount of catching up to do", he said, to tackle both the energy and climate challenges in her new job title. "Fortunately, there are plenty of things that will deliver on both.
"In her maiden speech, Claire Coutinho described renewables as one of the most remarkable success stories in the UK today. Perhaps she could persuade the Prime Minister to build on that success story instead of blocking it," Dr Parr continued. "If she can do that, it'll be good news for bill payers, the climate and the economy. We wish her best of luck with that."
Kate Norgrove, executive director of advocacy at the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), said as the new energy security and net zero secretary, Coutinho needed to rapidly increase the pace of delivering the UK's climate commitments, "after a summer of drift".
"The evidence shows us that acting now on our climate commitments is good for nature, brings economic opportunities, and supports and helps household finances," she added. "We look forward to working with the new Secretary of State to seize the economic opportunity of the 21st Century."