Cop28 making progress, says UK's former energy secretary Kwasi Kwarteng

On a visit to the Dubai conference, he insists his country remains a leader in climate action despite recent criticism

Kwasi Kwarteng at Cop28. Pawan Singh / The National
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The signs are good that Cop28 will make a difference to climate change, the UK's former energy secretary said on a visit to the UN conference in Dubai.

Kwasi Kwarteng, who was secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy from 2021 to 2022 under former prime minister Boris Johnson, said there seemed to be real commitment to deal with emissions from fossil fuels "for the first time" at a Cop.

"I think it’s an important Cop. I think some progress is being made. It’s going relatively well," he told The National.

"The feel is quite promising."

Mr Kwarteng, who served briefly as UK chancellor during Liz Truss’s short tenure as prime minister last year, and who remains a member of parliament, said it was important that the private sector was "involved and engaged" when it comes to limiting climate change.

The current UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been accused by some campaigners of watering down his country’s green commitments.

However, such criticism, prompted by decisions such as his announcement in September of a five-year delay to a ban on the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles in the UK, was described as "exaggerated" by Mr Kwarteng.

"The substance of what we’ve done in the past three or four years remains the same," he said.

"There’s the EV [electric vehicle] roll-out, the moving of the date from 2030 to 2035. I previously said I didn’t think that was the right thing.

"We still have a leadership position. Offshore wind has been very successful. We are a leader in the field of decarbonisation. In 2012, 40 per cent of our electricity was coming from coal. Yesterday it was zero."

Mr Kwarteng said there may have been some changes to the government's language around green issues after a by-election in Boris Johnson’s former parliamentary seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip, where concerns over a green air policy are thought to have influenced the result.

However, the former chancellor insisted "the substance" of many of the UK’s climate goals "hasn’t changed".

Trump's threat to climate change

Mr Kwarteng described the potential re-election of Donald Trump as US president as "a bit of a risk" when it came to dealing with climate change.

Mr Trump is far ahead of his rivals in polls on who might secure the Republican nomination for next year’s presidential vote.

During his previous presidency, from 2016 to 2020, Mr Trump withdrew the US from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, although the country rejoined under President Joe Biden.

Mr Kwarteng, who dealt with the Trump administration when he was UK energy secretary, said he did not think any future Trump presidency, should it come about, would row back on Mr Biden’s flagship Inflation Reduction Act.

The legislation passed last year, which offers tax incentives for investment in green industries such as EVs, wind power and solar energy, is credited with helping to mobilise tens of billions of capital, potentially creating hundreds of thousand of jobs.

Mr Kwarteng said the benefits of the scheme "go to the red states, the red Republican states".

"The trajectory of the policy will stay the same," he added. "There may be some [changes] in terms of the language. I’m confident the direction will be maintained."

Updated: December 10, 2023, 11:36 AM