Liz Truss’s new government has denied that it is abandoning its net zero target climate commitments despite bringing forward plans to legalise fracking.
Levelling-Up Secretary Simon Clarke on Thursday morning confirmed that the government would lift the ban on the controversial gas extraction process – Ms Truss’s first announcement as PM.
But environmentalists warned that the measure would do little to help with energy security and that they were “the root of so many of the problems we currently face”.
Britain already produces around half of its gas domestically, with most of the rest coming from Norway – but prices have surged because the commodity is sold on an open international market.
In April Kwasi Kwarteng, who is now the chancellor, said that fracking “would certainly have no effect on prices in the near term” but said it could help meet demand in the future.
But levelling-up secretary Mr Clarke told Sky News on Thursday morning: “If we want energy sufficiency we have to look at every source including clearly new nuclear, more renewables but we also want to look at technologies like fracking.
“We have to do so in the most sensitive possible way with community consent at the absolute heart of our policies.
“The net zero commitment that the Government has made by 2050 is critical. But in the near-term we need all kinds of gas as a transition fuel and that is something the Prime Minister will be saying more about.”
The UK’s official Committee on Climate Change in February said that “any increases in UK extraction of oil and gas would have, at most, a marginal effect on the prices faced by UK consumers in future.”
It said there should be tighter limits on production and a presumption against exploration, which would “send a clear signal to investors and consumers that the UK is committed to the 1.5°C global temperature goal”.
The news comes amid concerns about the climate policy views of members of Ms Truss’s cabinet and some of her new top advisors.
Matthew Sinclair, a former head of the right-wing pressure group the Taxpayers’ Alliance, claimed in a 2011 book that rising global temperatures could bring benefits and has attacked “the burgeoning climate change industry”.
And in 2016 he said the UK had “pushed energy efficiency too far, too fast” and that British homes were too warm.
He is now the prime minister’s chief economic advisor.
Responding to the government’s announcement on fracking, Friends of the Earth campaigner Danny Gross said: “Fracking is disruptive, unpopular and will do little to boost energy security or bring down bills.
“Fossil fuels are at the root of so many of the problems we currently face.
“We need clean, modern solutions to the energy and climate crises. That means insulation, energy efficiency and developing cheap renewables like onshore wind and solar.”
Speaking on Thursday morning Mr Clarke also rejected plans for a windfall tax on the profits of energy companies benefiting from the price surge.
“These firms are the people we are going to be absolutely relying on to deliver that next generation of oil and gas extraction on the route to energy self-sufficiency,” Mr Clarke said.
“We need to go much, much further in getting new fields on line. That is why we need these companies to be ploughing that investment into the North Sea. We cannot do what Labour would do, which is just tax, tax, tax.”
But Labour’s shadow climate secretary Ed Miliband said the decision was being made “purely on the basis of dogma”.
“This investment argument is completely bogus; that it would have a damaging effect on business,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“Bernard Looney, the chief executive of BP, says it wouldn’t have a damaging effect.
“This is a dogma, and I’m afraid we see a pattern here. This is a shift to the right by the Conservative Party under Liz Truss. Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak actually eventually ended up agreeing with our idea of a windfall tax.
“Now we have a government that is setting its face against it purely on the basis of dogma.”