Rudd in U.K. Energy Post Signals No Backtrack on Climate

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Amber Rudd was named to serve as the U.K. Cabinet minister in charge of energy and climate, easing concerns that the Conservative government would quickly backtrack on pledges to reduce fossil-fuel pollution.

Rudd, 51, was promoted from a junior post at the Department of Energy & Climate Change where she spoke frequently in support of the previous government’s policy backing renewables as a way to cut global warming emissions.

Her appointment brings a Conservative to the leadership of the department for the first time since 1997. While David Cameron’s party extended support for solar and wind power, it also has promised to halt the spread of onshore wind farms that some members of the party see as a blight on rural landscapes.

“Rudd has been a champion of renewables and the low-carbon economy in the past year, and her appointment will do much to allay the fears some may have after the general election,” Nina Skorupska, chief executive officer of the Renewable Energy Association, said in a statement on Monday.

Rudd faces the triple challenge in her new role of ensuring Britain’s lights stay on while reducing carbon emissions and keeping energy bills down after the cost of electricity and heating became an electoral flash-point.

Thatcher’s Legacy

She must also balance the views of her party, where some members support shale gas fracking and others worry about the impact on the countryside. On the issue of climate change, she’s firmly in the camp of those who want action to rein in emissions, a view that in November she said she traces to former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

“It was 25 years ago that a scientist and politician, Margaret Thatcher, who appreciated the need, became the first leader of any major nation to call for a global treaty on climate change,” Rudd said in Parliament on Nov. 20. “We are leading from the front.”

On the controversial issue of how the U.K. should respond to fracking technology, which allows drillers to tap shale formations that previously couldn’t be drained, Rudd has treaded a careful line.

Setting out the government view in a House of Commons debate in January, she said a “successful shale gas industry is an important part of our supporting renewables” because gas-fired power plants can work as a backup for intermittent flows from solar and wind. At the same time, she announced a ban on drilling in national parks, giving in to the demands of environmental groups and the Labour opposition.

Fracking View

The pro-fracking industry group United Kingdom Onshore Oil & Gas said Rudd’s appointment provided “continuity” with the policies of the last government, which included both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

Rudd replaces Ed Davey, a Liberal Democrat member of Parliament who lost his seat in the Conservative general election victory last week. Cameron made the announcement on Twitter, along with those of other government ministers.

“By putting a progressive, modern Conservative into DECC, who totally gets the big challenges of climate, PM showing real green leadership,” Greg Barker, a former Conservative lawmaker who also previously served as a junior climate minister, said on Twitter. Rudd joined DECC in July to take over from Barker, who stepped down from Parliament at the election.

Renewables Supporter

Since then, she has spoken frequently in support of the government’s policy on renewables, defending wind energy as “an essential part” of the energy mix. She also said during a debate in February the government is backing “significant levels” of offshore wind developments.

In November, she defended the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s work in assessing climate science, saying it “represents a true consensus” of views. That comment allayed concerns she would join some in her party questioning whether global warming is happening.

Greenpeace said it was a “hopeful” sign the government remains committed to fighting climate change.

Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, welcomed Rudd’s appointment as an indication the Tories are committed to tackling climate change. The party has a vociferous climate-skeptic wing that includes former environment secretary Owen Paterson, who has argued U.K. targets to cut carbon emissions are “utterly implausible.”

Climate Concerns

Rudd’s appointment “suggests that in the coming months we can expect to see the government pressing for a strong global deal at the UN climate talks in December,” Black said.

The Conservatives pledged in their manifesto to end subsidies to the cheapest form of large-scale renewable energy, onshore wind power, citing a lack of public support. At the same time, the party said it would cut emissions as “cost-effectively as possible, and will not support additional distorting and expensive power sector targets.”

Scottish Power Chief Corporate Officer Keith Anderson welcomed Rudd’s appointment, noting that “major investment is required in security of supply and in delivering sharp reductions in carbon emissions.”

Rudd will also have to work through the recommendations of the Competition & Markets Authority, which is conducting an antitrust probe into the workings of the power market that may ultimately call for splitting the so-called Big Six utilities into retail and generation businesses.

The Big Six are: Centrica Plc, SSE Plc, Electricite de France SA, RWE AG, Iberdrola SA and EON SE. The authority is due to report by the end of the year.

A mother of two, Rudd became a lawmaker in 2010, representing the constituency of Hastings and Rye. She served as an aide to Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne in September 2012 and then was moved to the energy department. She has a history degree from Edinburgh University, and has worked in investment banking and venture capital.

Her brother, Roland Rudd, is co-founder of Finsbury, a prominent financial public relations firm in London.

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