What the government reshuffle means for UK climate plans

Last week’s government reshuffle was expected to be small in scale but change at the Treasury has sent shockwaves round Westminster. Sajid Javid’s resignation as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and replacement with far younger and less experienced Rishi Sunak, will raise eyebrows. But what does his appointment, and that of other new ministers to the two departments responsible for delivering the UK’s net zero targets (BEIS and DEFRA) say about Boris Johnson’s climate agenda?

We also saw the surprise appointment of Alok Sharma, the new Secretary of State for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy, as Claire O’Neill’s replacement for COP26 President. What signals will this send as the climate world prepares to descend on Glasgow this coming November?

We break down the latest news to find out what the government reshuffle means for UK climate plans.


If we are to see the ambitious action we urgently require on climate change, we need investment in the green economy – and it is the Treasury which holds the purse strings. In a surprise move, the Treasury saw some changes in top personnel:

    • Rishi Sunak – Chancellor of the Exchequer
      • Previously Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Sunak replaces his former boss Sajid Javid, who resigned after disagreements over advisors. Sunak became an MP in 2015 and has just two years of ministerial experience.
      • This change comes with just four weeks until the Spring Budget – though one cabinet member has suggested this could now be delayed. The Budget will be the first since the government’s 2050 net-zero target announcement.
    • Kemi Badenoch – Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury
      • Badenoch was previously an Education Minister, before going on maternity leave in September. When she returns to Parliament, she will replace Simon Clarke, a minister passionate about decarbonising the economy.
      • Within the Treasury, she heads up the green infrastructure brief, whilst also looking at energy policy and the potential for carbon taxes.

Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and COP26

Primary responsibility for the energy sector and implementing the policy necessary to achieve our 2050 net zero target, comes under the BEIS department.

      • Alok Sharma – Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and COP26 President
        • Previous Secretary of State Andrea Leadsom had been considered ineffective by some, and not a vocal enough champion of the climate agenda. It is hoped that her replacement, Alok Sharma, will take a more proactive role.
        • Alok Sharma was previously International Development Secretary, during which time he sought to demonstrate the impact that the climate agenda is having on developing countries and the Global South.
        • In his new role, Alok will be in charge of a beefed up BEIS department, covering not only the energy and net-zero brief, but also the crucial COP26 Presidency. Following Claire O’Neill’s sacking earlier this month, she said about her successor: “Alok is a very good person who I am sure will get to grips quickly with the challenge”.
      • Kwasi Kwarteng – Minister for Energy and Clean Growth
        • Kwarteng remains in the post he has held since July, as second-in-command at BEIS.
        • He will continue his focus on carbon budgets, renewables, energy efficiency and the roll-out of smart meters, with the long-awaited energy white paper expected within weeks.

Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs

Responsible for environment, food, and rural affairs policy in the UK. This includes:

      • George Eustice – Secretary of State for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs
        • Many in environment and agriculture circles will be glad to see the back of Theresa Villiers, who was widely seen as incompetent. Eustice has been promoted from Minister of State at this department, to replace her.
        • His appointment will receive a mixed reception – with some pleased with his farming credentials, but others fearing his support for looser regulation. As the Environment and Agriculture Bills make their way through Parliament, his input will be crucial.
      • Lord Goldsmith – Minister for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs
        • Zac, now Lord Goldsmith, lost his seat of Richmond Park in the 2019 general election – but following his elevation to the House of Lords, he has managed to maintain his position as minister.
        • As a former editor of The Ecologist, and keen environmentalist, Goldsmith was tipped for the COP26 Presidency. Instead, he will continue his focus on biodiversity and environmental protection, now on a global as well as national scale.

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