The end of DECC: how is it being interpreted

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One of Theresa May’s first changes as Prime Minister was to merge the governmental departments of Business, Innovation and Skills with Energy and Climate Change to create the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

It has accompanied the appointment of Greg Clark as secretary of state  – previously from the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Greg Clark

Greg Clark

 

Does this mean a reduction in the priority given to climate change? Or is the move to a low-carbon economy such a priority that tackling climate change is now in the remit of all departments? Here’s what has been said:

On the merger of the departments:

James Murray, Business Green: “The creation of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) was one of the single best decisions of the Brown administration. It remains to be seen if its demise is one of most inspired or one of the most damaging decisions of the May administration.”

Sophie Yeo, Carbon Brief: “At this stage, a question mark hovers over the importance of climate change in the newly created department. The exclusion of the phase “climate change” from the title of the department is already a cause for concern”

Robin Pagnamenta, energy editor, The Times: “There is certainly a risk that the new department will lose its environmental focus. Yet there may be benefits, too. Since its creation, the energy department had been hobbled by a lack of alignment with broader industrial policy. … Add to that the fact that, as a relatively small department, DECC lacked gravitas and was seen as a stepping stone to a bigger job elsewhere and its travails seem understandable … A beefed-up Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy may prove to be a bigger and more powerful beast and therefore better able to fight its corner.”

Henry Mance, FT: “The creation of a single department of business, energy and industrial strategy, headed by Greg Clark, could allow for a more coherent approach to a range of issues, from subsidies for renewable electricity to support for struggling manufacturing industries.”

Adrienne Macartney, Huffington Post: “Business. Energy. Industry. None of these have climate change as their prime interest. Their driving factor is profit. … So the destruction of DECC and the formation of BEIS is an unsubtle proclamation that money rules the roost, and that the pursuers of money need not be concerned with emissions and regulation. Climate change is off the cards. Titular linguistics reflecting political action.”

Craig Bennett, Friends of the Earth CEO: “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,”

John Sauven, Greenpeace: “Although, some might say ‘what’s in a name’, there is a very real worry that the progress made on tackling climate change could be relegated to the bottom of the intray.”

Ed Davey Mongoose Energy chair (and former DECC secretary): “This is a major setback for the UK’s climate change efforts. Greg Clark may be nice and he may even be green, but by downgrading the Whitehall status of climate change, Theresa May has hit low carbon investor confidence yet again,”

Ed Milliband (former Labour leader and the first DECC secretary): “Plain stupid. Climate not even mentioned in new dept title. Matters because depts shape priorities, shape outcomes.”

The new Economics foundation (a leading left of centre think tank): “This reshuffle risks dropping climate change from the policy agenda altogether.”

Richard Howard, Policy Exchange (a right of centre think tank): “Rather than bemoaning the demise of DECC, we should embrace the creation of BEIS. DECC has always been regarded as something of a minnow in departmental terms. By merging with BIS, energy and climate change issues can be elevated to a much higher level politically.”

The Elders (organisation founded by Nelson Madela and chaired by Kofi Annan): “We regret decision to scrap [DECC].[Climate change should] be priority for UK to meet [COP21] pledges but this will not encourage leadership.”

On Greg Clark’s appointment:

First off, Mr Clark has made it clear that he will be focusing on climate change, albeit it should be noted that these were the very last words of his statement.

“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.”

His They Work For You voting summary shows he has hardly ever rebelled, however, his record on environmental issues are reasonably positive. And, as Carbon Brief highlights, quotes from when he was shadow energy secretary highlighted that he sided with the climate science repeatedly.

Business Green: “Greg Clark’s appointment as the new Secretary of State is great news for the green economy. He is almost universally regarded as a serious and capable operator, one of the good guys, and a long-standing and avowed supporter of the green economy and action on climate change. Theresa May has given no indication that she wants to water down the UK’s commitment to climate action. Philip Hammond’s stated support for climate action suggests the UK now has its greenest Chancellor since Brown left Number 11.“

The Guardian: “Greg Clark, has had rave reviews for his previous work on energy and climate change and he could provide the plot twist not seen in earlier performances: putting the fast growing low carbon economy of the future at the heart of industrial strategy.”

Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU): “Greg Clark is an excellent appointment. He understands climate change, and has written influential papers on the benefits of Britain developing a low-carbon economy. Importantly, he 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’s never been done before.”

Carbon brief: “It is not Clark’s first brush with the climate change brief. Between 2008 and 2010, while the Conservatives were in opposition, he was shadow secretary for energy and climate change. In this time, he made his [progressive, science based] views clear on climate change.”

Conclusion

Business Green put it succinctly when it said the demise of DECC “will not derail the UK’s green economy, but it still sends all the wrong messages.”

We’ll have to wait to see if this highlights a reduced emphasis on tackling climate change, or if the department is in reality the Department of Business, Clean Energy, and Low Carbon Industrial Strategy, proof of the latter will come if and when we see:

– A strong policy statement by the PM on the importance of climate and clean energy

– Greg Clark making it clear that he sees climate change very much as part of his remit and the Paris Agreement/5th carbon budget as one of the guiding principles for his department

– The appointment of a Minister of State for Climate Change and/or clean energy.

Theresa May’s voting record on environmental issues may not be encouraging, but we are at least now in a position where clean energy now undercuts fossil fuels, the green economy is worth billions and it employs not thousands, but hundreds of thousands of people across the UK. And the sector is resilient and diverse – not least with community energy growing rapidly.

And, with Greg Clark heading up this beefed up department, we have a minister that has stated repeatedly that he understands the science of climate change and sides with the consensus and should, therefore, make it a priority. The fact that he is the former communities minister could, therefore, help further accelerate the impressive and rapid growth of community energy.

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Author:

Mark Kenber, CEO of Mongoose Energy supply business.

mark kenber