Kwasi Kwarteng has been appointed Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in a mini-shuffle.
He is taking over from Alok Sharma, who will now focus on his role as President of the UN COP26 climate conference full-time. Meanwhile, Anne-Marie Trevelyan will become energy minister, taking over from Kwarteng.
The shuffle follows criticism that Sharma would struggle with balancing the demands of both roles, in particular with the travel demands of his role as President of COP26 in the run up to the event in November 2021.
“The biggest challenge of our time is climate change and we need to work together to deliver a cleaner, greener world and build back better for present and future generations,” said Sharma.
“Through the UK’s Presidency of COP26 we have a unique opportunity, working with friends and partners around the world, to deliver on this goal.
“Given the vital importance of tackling climate change I am delighted to have been asked by the Prime Minister to dedicate all my energies to this urgent task.”
Pressure has been mounting for the UK to display its commitment to climate change action ahead of the COP26 conference, leading the government to create the COP26 Energy Transition Council in September to help speed progress.
Additionally, Prime Minister Boris Johnson committed to cutting the UK’s emissions by at least 68% by 2030 when updating the Nationally Determined Contribution target each nation sets under the Paris Climate Agreement.
Richard Black, senior associate at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said that allowing Sharma to focus on COP26 full-time was a “sensible” decision that signalled the government’s commitment to the success of the event.
“Being President of COP26 needs a full-time focus, but Mr Sharma will also need the full backing of Number 10 and other key parts of government, such as the Foreign Office. Although the pandemic makes a tough job even more challenging, the government should focus squarely on building diplomatic alliances as the French did ahead of the successful Paris summit, including with the smallest and least developed nations whose support will be critical for achieving a positive summit outcome.”
Sharma took on the role of energy secretary in February 2020, after a cabinet reshuffle saw Andrea Leadsom sacked. She had only been appointed in the July previously, at the same time as Kwarteng was announced as energy minister.
Sharma was also appointed minister for COP26 in February, with Claire O'Neill having held the role of president of COP26 prior to this.
Kwarteng – who will become the first black Conservative Secretary of State – was welcomed into the role by RenewableUK’s chief executive Hugh McNeal, who said the organisation is delighted to have “a strong and passionate advocate for renewable energy” at the very top of the department.
“Kwasi Kwarteng has championed renewable energy indefatigably in his role as energy minister, engaging with us constantly on how to ramp up the deployment of onshore and offshore wind and innovative technologies like floating wind, tidal stream and wave power and renewable hydrogen, so we can reach net zero emissions as fast and as cheaply as possible.
“His keen focus on vital work to develop the UK renewable energy supply chain with us will help to create tens of thousands of jobs over the course of this decade in the Prime Minister’s Green Industrial Revolution. We’re also looking forward to working closely with Anne-Marie Trevelyan in her new role as Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth.”
Trevelyan, who is MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed, has previously worked as international development secretary. On Twitter, she said she was “thrilled to be taking on UK energy portfolio”.
“The PM’s 10-point plan will revolutionise our homes, travel, businesses and jobs across the UK,” she added, pointing to the government’s commitment list published in November, which included bringing forward the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles as well as reconfirming the 40GW of offshore wind by 2030 target.