DECC Axed - The Reaction
On the 14th July 2016, Greg Clark was appointed Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Innovation (BEIS) confirming the news that Theresa May had axed the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), merging it with the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) to create a new governmental body.
This decision is almost an exact reversal of Gordon Brown’s creation of the DECC, back in 2008, which was created to take on the energy functions previously related to the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (DBERR) combining it with those functions relating to climate change in the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
May’s decision has caused many green advocates to voice their concern about the apparent removal of climate change policy from the governmental agenda, with many questioning what this will mean for renewable projects and the energy sector as a whole.
Conversely, while some bemoan the decision, others are expressing a more positive outlook, claiming that the merging of the DECC with the BIS will actually push climate change up the policy agenda, co-ordinating it with industry and business policies, to ensure that our green goals are reached.
The potential positives…
Usually, when two businesses merge, it is based on the assumption that it will be mutually beneficial and that both parties will bring something to the table which will enhance the other.
This may very well be the case for this collaboration. For our climate change goals to be reached, it is generally acknowledged that businesses and heavy industry need to play their part and strategise in line with agreed commitments. By aligning business, industry and energy policies, this will be made easier as they work together to support domestic energy supply growth and national renewable projects.
RenewableUK’s Chief Executive, Hugh McNeal is one of those who believes this merger could be a positive step for the UK’s work on climate change, commenting: “The renewable energy industry has faced some tough challenges over the past year, but now we have clarity on the make-up of the new administration we can move forward.” Continuing, “Industry is ready to invest and it is vital for our economy that this work continues.”
The Policy Exchange thinktank have also attempted to placate the fears that climate change targets will be forgotten about now that the phrase has been removed from a departmental title. In a statement entitled “Green Groups should not bemoan the merger of the DECC and BIS” they recommend that “we should embrace the creation of the BEIS”, continuing “by merging with the BIS, energy and climate change issues can be elevated to a much higher level politically.”
Speaking about the name-drop specifically, the statement says: “the suggestion is that by dropping the words ‘climate change’ from the name on the front door, the policy goes out the window. But why should this be the case? Do we insist on referring to the Treasury as the ‘Department for Economic Policy, Tax and Public Spending, Financial Services and Major Infrastructure projects’? No.”
Furthermore, not only will the Committee for Energy and Climate Change (ECC) continue to exist and push for green policies, but Parliament have also just passed the UK’s fifth carbon budget, which aims to cut UK emissions by 57%, compared to 1990 levels, by 2030, committing us to ever more ambitious green targets.
Despite there being no cabinet minister 100% dedicated to energy, the Government has confirmed that responsibility for climate change policy will fall within Mr. Clark’s remit, and May has confirmed she will stand by her party’s general election manifesto to meet climate change commitments.
Greg Clark, who was previously the shadow secretary for Energy and Climate Change when the Conservatives were the opposition between 2008-2010, has experience working in this area and is generally seen by his peers as a green-minded Tory.
Commenting on his appointment, Clark said: “I am thrilled to have been appointed to lead this new department charged with delivering a comprehensive industrial strategy, leading government’s relationship with business, furthering our world-class science base, delivering affordable, clean energy and tackling climate change.”
Approval of the appointment was also echoed by Richard Black, Director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) who commented: “(Clark) sees that economic growth and tackling climate change are bedfellows, not opponents – and he now has the opportunity to align British industry, energy, and climate policy in a way that has never been done before.”
May’s recent electoral opponent, Andrea Leadsom, has also now been confirmed as the Secretary of State for the Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs and May herself was briefly Shadow Secretary of State for Environment and Transport back in 2004-2005, but for many this is little consolation.
The perceived cons…
The most obvious issue with this decision, as mentioned above, is the removal of “climate change” from any departmental title, which has been perceived to mean that it is no longer high on the government agenda. This has not been helped by the fact that May has always been quite silent on the subject, and was absent when parliament voted on the allowance of fracking in national parks.
It has also been suggested that removal of the term ‘climate change’ from the Department name could deter investors who no longer believe they will receive full support or gain any return.
Previous incumbents of the DECC secretarial post have voiced outrage at the decision. Ed Miliband lashed out on Twitter, commenting that it was “just plain stupid.”
Ex-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Davey, also took to social media, proclaiming; “DECC's end huge set back to climate change work. Downgrading Whitehall status of climate change hits low carbon investor confidence (again).”
Green campaigners have also voiced their dissatisfaction at the fact that there is no longer a dedicated minister for Energy.
Friends of the Earth CEO, Craig Bennett said: “This is shocking news. Less than a day into the job and it appears the new Prime Minister has already downgraded action to tackle climate change, one of the biggest threats we face.”
The last DECC cabinet minister, Amber Rudd, has now taken on May’s old post as Home Secretary but this still does not alleviate the fears many have that this government is losing its “green” focus. During her time in the DECC, Rudd oversaw the retraction of onshore wind and solar subsidies, the end of tax exemption for the use of renewables, the reform of the RHI and the selling of the Green Investment Bank, which have all played their part in raising concerns about the Conservative government’s commitment to climate change obligations.
Given the recent Brexit decision it is also un-surprising that many are asking the question of who will defend climate change in the upcoming EU negotiations. As a member of the EU, we had obligations to joint targets. Now we have decided to leave, we have the potential ability to set our own agenda.
However, with climate change sceptic, David Davis, at the helm of Brexit negotiations, the future may not be looking as ‘green’ as many would like.
Only time will tell whether this re-shuffle will help or hinder our environmental aspirations. Just because ‘climate change’ has been removed from the sign, it will not have been removed from the minds of campaigners.