Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Climate change: and goodbye to the Department of Energy and Climate Change

There are different opinions about the change to the DECC:

Killing the climate change department could be Theresa May's first and biggest mistake

It was bad enough when David Cameron told his officials to cut the 'green crap' but his successor just sent out a massive signal she's not remotely bothered about global warming

Ian Johnston Environment Correspondent Friday 15 July 2016

It was, with the possible exception of appointing Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary, the starkest statement of intent made by Theresa May in her first 24 hours in Downing Street.

Amid mounting concern that the world must do much more to prevent the worst effects of climate change, our new Prime Minister decided to abolish the UK’s climate change department.

In 2013, in the teeth of an energy bill crisis, David Cameron reportedly said it was time to “get rid of all the green crap”. That statement can be interpreted in two ways: cut everything green because it’s all crap or cut the green policies that are crap and keep those that work.

To be fair to the departed Prime Minister, while support for renewable energy was slashed under his watch – as the fossil fuel industry continued to benefit from lavish subsidies – there was still significant funding to help offshore windfarms and biofuels, for example. About half the power generated by the giant Drax power station currently comes from biofuels thanks in part to Government help.

And Cameron never decided climate change was such a trivial issue that it did not deserve its own Government department.

Killing the climate change department could be Theresa May's first and biggest mistake | Voices | The Independent

This sees the change more positively:

Why the end of the Department for Energy and Climate Change could be good news on climate change

What does the creation of a new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) mean for climate change policy? Samuel Fankhauser argues that it doesn’t have to be the disaster portrayed by some environmentalists: by bringing energy and climate issues together with industrial strategy, and with the right political will, it could be an effective platform to turn the UK into a true global leader in the low-carbon economy.

The move has variously been described as the abolition of the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) or the merger of DECC with the remains of a much-diminished Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). Either way, most commentators agreed that the new BEIS signalled a softening of Britain’s stance on climate change.

Climate sceptics were jubilant, sensing a second victory after the Brexit vote that most of them supported. Environmentalists were alarmed not just about climate change, but about environmental protection post-Brexit more broadly.

It need not turn out that way...

Why the end of the Department for Energy and Climate Change could be good news on climate change | British Politics and Policy at LSE

As does this from a couple of days ago:

Back to the DTI? The merger of DECC and BIS is a New Opportunity to Integrate Energy and Industrial Policies

July 20, 2016 by Sussex Energy Group

As part of the new Prime Minister’s extensive reshuffle late last week, it was announced that the Departments of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) are to merge to form a new Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). Taken at face value, this looks like a backwards step to a time when energy and climate policy were much less important. But is the creation of BEIS necessarily a bad thing?

Unlike last time the UK had a separate government department for energy, DECC has lasted less than a decade. The creation of BEIS comes eight years after DECC brought together energy and climate change policy. The UK’s previous Department of Energy was, like many others around the world, created in the wake of the oil shock of 1973/4. It lasted eighteen years – from 1974 to 1992 – and was abolished as a result of the privatisation of the UK’s energy industries in the 1980s and ’90s.

To some extent, the merger of DECC and BIS does not come as a surprise. The political profile of energy and climate change, when compared to many other issues, is not what it was in the late 2000s. This is not because they are unimportant. The evidence for climate change is as strong as ever, and there are other pressing challenges facing our energy sector. However, as Peter Pearson and I argued in our history of UK energy policy in 2012, ‘the continued salience of energy policy is far from assured … While the priority currently placed on energy policy might seem permanent, this can change rapidly’.

There have been mixed reactions to the merger. Whilst some analysts such as Richard Howard from Policy Exchange argue that it presents a good opportunity to strengthen the salience of energy and climate policy, others – particularly environmental NGOs and former DECC Secretaries of State – have expressed alarm. The first Secretary of State for DECC, Ed Miliband, called the decision ‘just plain stupid’, and Craig Bennett, Chief Executive of Friends of the Earth said it was ‘shocking news’. But there are important reasons why BEIS could develop in the way the optimists foresee.

First, it is important to bear in mind that the new Department does not mean a return to the days of the old Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). At one point in 1997, energy policy was just part of the portfolio of one junior minister in the DTI. This time, the whole of DECC will be moved into the new department. The old divisions between climate change policy and energy efficiency policy (which used to be the responsibility of Defra), and energy supply policies (which were overseen by DTI), have not been reinstated.

Second, the Climate Change Act is now well established. It legally requires the government to set a long-term target and five-yearly carbon budgets for emissions reductions. It is welcome news that, in the midst of the recent political turmoil, the government accepted the 5th carbon budget recommendation from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).

Significant progress has been made with reducing greenhouse gas emissions since 1990. In 2015, emissions were 38% lower than the 1990 level. Renewable energy generation has accelerated, to 25% of electricity in 2015. Furthermore, energy demand has been falling, on average, for the past decade. However, as the CCC has argued in their most recent assessment, these indicators are not a reason for complacency. There is a large amount of work to do to ensure that the UK meets the third, fourth and fifth carbon budgets. Many policy gaps remain, including in the neglected area of heat and in energy efficiency policy. In addition, recent policy changes have had a large effect on investor confidence.

Third, the new department has a ministerial team who have prior knowledge of their brief, and of understanding why the shift to a low carbon energy system is important. In opposition, the new Secretary of State Greg Clark MP wrote a policy paper on the low carbon economy. Similarly, the Minister of State Nick Hurd MP was a member of the Conservative Party’s quality of life policy group. This was set up by David Cameron before he became Prime Minister to advise the then Shadow Cabinet about a range of policy areas including energy, environment and transport – in the context of a need to address climate change and social justice. Added to this, the new Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond MP was a strong advocate of international climate action during his tenure at the Foreign Office.

But what of the substance of the optimists’ case, that bringing energy, climate and industrial policies together is more of an opportunity than a threat? Successive governments since the late 2000s have sought to develop this link in a more explicit way, after many years in which industrial policy was often not discussed. When he was Secretary of State for Business, Peter Mandelson argued for a need for a renewed ‘industrial activism’ in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. This continued under the Coalition, including detailed work to identify areas where a low carbon energy transition could reduce emissions, build on areas of industrial strength and create jobs.

As a Green Alliance pamphlet pointed out recently, the UK is number 2 in the world for service exports. Globally, around a third of clean energy projects between 2007 and 2012 had UK financial and legal advice. This illustrates an important point: the UK has had major impacts on global energy policies and market arrangements over the past 2-3 decades. This was initially manifested through the export of the ‘UK model’ of liberalised electricity markets from the 1990s onwards, a process that had mixed results. More recently, the UK was a pioneer in carbon markets, and its Climate Change Act has inspired similar legislation in several other countries.

The new BEIS department faces huge challenges of course, especially given the government’s intention to negotiate withdrawal from the EU and the social divisions that were revealed by the referendum. Two priorities are particularly important. First, there is a lot of work to do to close the gap between the high ambition set out in legislated carbon budgets and the policies in place to reduce emissions in a secure, affordable way. Second, there is an opportunity to integrate industrial strategy and energy policy more clearly – so that the UK can realise more of the economic and industrial benefits of the low carbon transition as well as meeting more traditional energy policy goals. Such benefits have started to emerge in technological areas such as offshore wind and smarter grid demonstrations – but there is a long way to go.

This blog was originally posted on the UKERC website.

Professor Jim Watson is the Research Director of the UK Energy Research Centre, based at Imperial College, London. Jim is also Professor of Energy Policy at SPRU – Science Policy Research Unit.

Back to the DTI? The merger of DECC and BIS is a New Opportunity to Integrate Energy and Industrial Policies

The New Economics Forum sees it differently:

We can’t afford to scrap the Department of Energy and Climate Change


Abolishing the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) would be a terrible first move by our new Prime Minister.

When Gordon Brown first created the Department it was a signal that the UK at last recognised and understood the dangers of climate change – an issue that will define the 21st century and the future of our global society. The least it deserved was a strong dedicated government department.

If rumours that the department could be scrapped or rolled into another are true, it would signal a troubling de-prioritisation of climate change by this government.

Theresa May’s first remarks about energy emphasised cost and security – two factors that are typically, and erroneously, placed in opposition to sustainability. While that neglect has been obvious for some time, disbanding the DECC would make it official.

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 co-ordinated strategy; if we leave it to the afterthoughts of various departments then we will fail.

With strategic direction from a strong champion in government, adapting our economy for a clean future would be an opportunity – a chance to nurture new industries, improve health and wellbeing, and rebalance our economy. But this new government looks set on squandering those possibilities.

More immediately, there are a number of questions we urgently need answers to.

> Is the 2008 Climate Change Act safe? This world-leading piece of legislation, which commits us to an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050, is one of few remaining silver linings in UK environmental policy.

> The government must reassure businesses and civil society that the targets under the Climate Act are not up for negotiation. Theresa May herself has previously had very positive things to say about it.

> Would the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) absorb responsibility for climate change mitigation? If so, would it receive additional resources to allow it to undertake such an important function?

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.

Energy & Climate Change, Environment

We can’t afford to scrap the Department of Energy and Climate Change | New Economics Foundation

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