Could the UK’s new shadow cabinet mean a stronger climate agenda?


The election of Keir Starmer as the new Leader of the Opposition at the start of this month marks a new direction for the party.

Despite the highly unusual circumstances – with leadership election results delivered via email, and a victory statement by video message – Labour has already started scrutinising the government over its COVID-19 preparations.

Nevertheless, commentators are hoping for the party’s ambitious Green New Deal to remain high on the agenda, following the news of his first shadow cabinet appointments. Starmer will likely be lauded for the high prominence of posts relating to climate action, including several newly created positions. In this blog we take a more detailed look at the shadow cabinet composition, and what it means for environmental plans.


If we are to see decisive action required to effectively tackle climate breakdown there must be investment in the UK’s green economy – and it is the Treasury which holds the purse strings. Labour’s top team will be keen to push for a green recovery to the economic crisis caused by COVID-19:

Anneliese Dodds – Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer.

  • Having only become an MP three years ago, Dodds is also the first woman to hold this position within the Treasury. As a shadow Treasury Minister, she has considerable knowledge and experience at the department, with a background as a university lecturer in Public Policy.
  • She was a strong advocate of the Green New Deal under the previous Labour administration, and will be eager to weave green thinking through the Treasury.

Wes Streeting – Shadow Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury.

  • Streeting, a vocal Corbyn critic during his leadership, is seen as a rising star in the party. He will shadow Kemi Badenoch, with responsibilities for the UK’s energy infrastructure, environment and climate policy – including the net-zero transition.

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

Primary responsibility for the energy sector, and pursuing the climate agenda needed to achieve the UK’s 2050 net-zero target, comes under the BEIS department. New ministers include:

Ed Miliband – Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

  • The ex-Labour leader and former Climate Change Secretary will be considered a popular appointment, shadowing a brief he is undeniably passionate about.
  • He has been a vocal supporter of the Green New Deal for many years. Upon his appointment, he said: “We cannot go back to business as usual after this crisis. We must return to climate change as the unavoidable long-term issue of our time, including a recovery based on providing economic justice through a Green New Deal”.

Matthew Pennycook – Shadow Minister for Climate Change

  • Pennycook is a member of SERA, Labour’s environment campaign, so is a considered choice for this important role in advance of the UK’s hosting of COP26. He has already demonstrated a campaigning approach to the post, calling on Shell to set “bolder emissions goals”.

Alan Whitehead – Shadow Minister for Green New Deal and Energy

  • A newly-created position ministered by Alan Whitehead, an experienced climate campaigner who has been at the forefront of Labour’s renewable energy agenda for many years – in particular lobbying for microgeneration. He is also a former head of PRASEG, the Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Group.

Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs

Responsible for environment, food, and rural affairs – and particularly relevant in keeping the agriculture sector functioning during the COVID-19 crisis. The new shadow team includes:

Luke Pollard – Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs

  • Pollard was appointed Shadow DEFRA Secretary at the start of the year, and Keir Starmer has decided to keep him in post. He is considered a rising star in the party, and a vocal supporter of environmental projects in his Plymouth constituency.
  • He intends to place a particular focus on animal welfare – as a strong supporter of the hunting ban – and marine life, calling for the establishment of national marine parks.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle – Shadow Minister for Natural Environment & Air Quality

  • This newly named position highlights the increasing importance of air quality, and Russell-Moyle has been a long-standing campaigner for clean air zones in poorer communities. He is also expected to pay particular attention to protecting natural environments from plastic waste.

Daniel Zeichner – Shadow Minister for Food, Farming & Fisheries

  • Zeichner takes on the food, farming and fisheries portfolio, concentrating initially on scrutinising the government to uphold crucial food supply chains during the COVID-19 crisis.


Responsible for transport and decarbonisation of transport networks. Labour’s team includes:

Jim McMahon – Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

  • Another rising star, promoted to the shadow cabinet for the first time, McMahon is a former council leader with strong local government experience.
  • Under his guidance, Labour is expected to continue its strong push on improving public transport, with dedicated bus and railway ministers focussing on developing local transport networks.

Kerry McCarthy – Shadow Minister for Green Transport

  • A passionate environmental campaigner and vegan activist, Bristol MP McCarthy will utilise this brand new portfolio to call for investment in green transport, as well as research into future decarbonised modes of transport.

This shadow cabinet could have a considerable influence over the direction of environmental policy in the near future. With some key milestones approaching – from COP26 to the implementation of the Paris Agreement – Labour needs to keep up the pressure on the government and ensure the climate agenda remains a top priority for the UK throughout this difficult period.

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