Government

Decision to dissolve Department of Energy & Climate Change comes under fire

The Department of Energy and Climate Change has been scrapped as part of Theresa May's reorganisation of government
Theresa May’s decision to scrap the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) has come under fire from green campaigners and former department heads for marginalising climate change at such a pivotal time, while several environment industry insiders have called for the new government to show leadership and concrete action in setting energy and environmental policy.

At the beginning of the week, it seemed that a change of Prime Minister was still some weeks away, with Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom and Home Secretary Theresa May locked in a race to succeed David Cameron. Leadsom’s withdrawal on Monday, however, hastened the switch and led to a raft of changes to government over the past two days.

Two of May’s first moves were to promote the heads of the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) and DECC, Liz Truss and Amber Rudd, to more senior cabinet positions.

It wasn’t until later on Thursday (14 July) that it was confirmed that Leadsom, a supporter of fracking and campaigner for Brexit, would take up the role of Environment Secretary and that May, in one of the most significant moves of the reshuffle, would be abolishing DECC and transferring responsibility for energy and climate change to a new Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

Former DECC secretaries call move ‘plain stupid’

The decision to close DECC after eight years of existence was met with derision from some prominent members of Parliament, with two former Energy and Climate Change Secretaries tweeting that the loss of climate change from any department’s title would harm ongoing work.

Ed Miliband, DECC’s first Secretary of State when it was formed by Labour in 2008, tweeted:

His fears were echoed by Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat who headed the department under the coalition government between 2012 and 2015:

Green MP Caroline Lucas, who sits on the Environmental Audit Committee, also bemoaned the marginalisation of climate change in the switch, while adding that the decision, along with the appointment of Leadsom as Environment Secretary, shows that ‘government’s green veneer [is] now flaking off’.

SNP MP Angus Brendan MacNeil, Chair of Parliament’s Energy and Climate Change Committee, also expressed shock that the department had been closed when investment is needed to pursue climate change targets at the same time as it is under threat from Britain’s forthcoming departure from the EU.

He said: “My committee’s reports have recently identified serious concerns about reduced investor confidence in the UK energy sector. An historic agreement at COP21 in Paris last November still requires ratification, and the fifth carbon budget is still yet to be set in law. While members of my committee differed in their views on the European Union, the immediate impact of the vote to leave has been to amplify uncertainty at a time when major investment is needed to deliver affordable, clean and secure energy. In this context, I am astonished at the Prime Minister’s decision to abolish DECC.

“DECC’s disappearance raises urgent questions. To whom falls the central statutory obligation, contained in the Climate Change Act 2008, to reduce the UK’s carbon emissions by 80 per cent from their 1990 baseline? Which department will take responsibility for the energy and climate aspects of negotiations to leave the EU? Who will drive innovation in the energy sector?

“Over the coming weeks, I will speak to colleagues to explore how we can ensure that effective Parliamentary scrutiny on the crucial issues of energy and climate change continues.”

Green groups worry about climate ‘neglect’ in government

Commenting on news that DECC has been abolished, Friends of the Earth CEO Craig Bennett said: “This is shocking news. Less than a day into the job and it appears that the new Prime Minister has already downgraded action to tackle climate change, one of the biggest threats we face.

“This week, the government’s own advisors warned of ever-growing risks to our businesses, homes and food if we don’t do more to cut fossil fuel pollution. If Theresa May supports strong action on climate change, as she’s previously said, it’s essential that this is made a top priority for the new business and energy department and across government.”

May mixes Business with Energy as DECC scrapped in reshuffle
New Business Secretary Greg Clark
In a blog for the New Economics Foundation, a think tank promoting social, economic and environmental justice, Environmental Economist Stephen Devlin wrote that the move to scrap DECC made the government’s ‘neglect’ of sustainability and climate change ‘official’. He wrote: ‘Tackling climate change should not be just an adjunct to other policy issues – it is an era-defining challenge that must direct and determine what industries we develop, what transport infrastructure we can or cannot construct, how we must manage our land and what our diets should look like. This requires a central coordinated strategy; if we leave it to the afterthoughts of various departments then we will fail.

‘Defra’s capabilities on climate change have been gradually eroded over the years to practically nothing. Reassigning this enormous responsibility to that department without changes to its resourcing would be tantamount to dropping climate change from the policy agenda altogether – a staggering act of negligence for which we will all pay the price.’

Clear, long-term policies needed

Providing a more positive outlook, David Palmer-Jones, CEO for the recycling and recovery division of SUEZ in the UK, suggested that any rationalisation of government departments that would deliver more cohesive, long-term strategic planning for energy and resource use would be welcome.

He said: “Businesses like ours need clear long-term policy guidance from Whitehall so we can continue to plan and invest in infrastructure to help address the country's rapidly impending energy supply gap as we wean ourselves off fossil fuels.

“All of the UK’s devolved administrations will be looking for clarity and certainty of process over the UK’s negotiations with Europe over its long-term relationship with the EU and during that period of transition the waste and resources sector continues to seek vision and leadership from Whitehall as well as the industry getting its due.”

Juliet Davenport, Chief Executive of renewable energy company Good Energy, added: “In some ways, the name above the door of the civil service department doesn’t matter. But now the government needs to prove that climate change isn't slipping down the agenda. I want to see concrete action to transform our energy system and clear policies for meeting the UK’s decarbonisation commitments.”

More details about the decision to close DECC and merge energy with a new-look business department can be found in Resource’s previous news story.

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