robin whitlock

Hold your fire, new UK cabinet may not be as bad as you think

Theresa May has scrapped the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) causing climate change deniers to jump up and down with glee, but it might not actually be that bad.
Hold your fire, new UK cabinet may not be as bad as you think

The scrapping of DECC caused climate change denier James Delingpole to write a typically malicious blog on the Breitbart London website while simultaneously causing some clean energy businesses and green groups to start biting their collective finger nails in anxiety. Sure, it looks bad, given that the words ‘climate change’ no longer appear in the title of any UK government department. However, on closer inspection, it might actually be a fairly positive move, in which case the climate change deniers are en route to major disappointment.

Let’s take a good look at new Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark for a start off. Actually, this guy is fairly sound on climate change if you examine his past record closely. During 2008-2010, Clark was the Conservative Party’s shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. He wrote two landmark policy papers on energy and climate change: “The Low Carbon Economy” and “Rebuilding Security”, both of them describing how the Conservatives could make the UK a leading player in the global low carbon economy. That doesn’t sound like someone who’s going to take an axe to British clean energy policy to me.

In fact, Clark’s appointment has been celebrated by the Director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), Richard Black.

“He understands climate change” said Black recently, “…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 has never been done before.”

And you know, that is actually the real point. Delingpole and his climate change denying cronies think that the Tories will start to demolish wind farms and smash up solar farms and the land will once again be totally and utterly free of everything green, well, apart from the grass and the trees that is. In reality, it is the clean energy sector and the environmental movement that should be celebrating, because Clark’s new appointment gives him the opportunity to start spreading clean energy and climate change policies right across the board, integrating them as a major component of every field of business the government has anything to do with or any influence over. This is something that should have happened years ago, and now Theresa May has given Mr Clark a golden opportunity to go ahead and do it.

Then you have the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond. During the George Osborne years, it was a common complaint that behind every attempt to wreck clean energy policy, the hidden hand of the (then) Chancellor was working its black magic. However, Hammond has put considerable distance between him and Osborne. He’s binned the threatened ‘Brexit budget’ and is also likely to ease up on austerity, in clear contravention of the former Chancellor’s approach to policy making. Sources close to Mrs May have even said Osborne was sacked, with the new PM making it quite clear she didn’t want him in the cabinet. Hammond also made clear his support for climate policy in 2014, during a speech given in Boston, USA. He reiterated that message in 2015 at the American Enterprise Institute:

“The world is moving towards a low carbon economy” Hammond stated in his speech. “I would suggest that there may now be more risk in being left behind than there is in taking the lead.”

But it doesn’t stop there, because Theresa May, with characteristic determined vigour and attention to detail, has followed through with some equally important appointments.

We now have Nick Hurd, Margot James and House of Lords peer Baroness Lucy Neville-Rolfe serving in the department as junior ministers.

Hurd is a supporter of the Conservative Environment Network, an independent forum that devotes itself to the advancement of Conservative environmentalism and whose membership also includes Zac Goldsmith, the former editor of The Ecologist. Hurd was also chairman of the climate change sub-group of the Quality of Life policy review commission between 2006 and 2008. He also served on the Environmental Audit committee and as parliamentary under-secretary of state for international development between November 2015 and July 2016.

Margot James is now the under-secretary of state at Business and Energy. She has previously worked hard to promote the Green Deal energy efficiency scheme. Even though this was ultimately something of a disaster, James consulted widely with local authorities across the country to try and persuade them to get involved with energy efficiency, so she certainly doesn’t suffer from any lack of interest in the subject.  

Likewise, House of Lords peer Baroness Lucy Neville-Rolfe has a strong interest in climate change and cleane energy, serving as a Non-Executive Director of the Carbon Trust in 2012 and acting as a member of the Prince of Wales Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change.

Mrs May herself has tried to calm fears about the axing of DECC by stating that it would be odd not to carry on playing a leading role in global clean energy development when “all the most important new trading partners in our post-Brexit world, such as China, India and the United States, are themselves making massive investments in a clean energy transformation.”

ECIU Richard Black believes that the new Business and Energy Department opens up a new opportunity for innovation and industry strategy, enabling companies in the clean energy supply chain, including steel, to expand and thrive in a strong British market. The National Infrastructure Commission along with big energy industry cheeses such as Energy UK have expressed their support for the construction of a smart, flexible, low-carbon grid and Black believes this signals a clear pathway for ministers to follow. RenewableUK Chief Executive Hugh McNeal has also welcomed the new department, stating that RenewableUK can attract inward investment in the UK with the potential for onshore wind to become the cheapest source of new power for Britain.

So here’s the question. Why would Theresa May do all this, putting key personnel in exactly the right places, if all she wanted to do was demolish British clean energy and climate action and scatter its remains to the four winds?

Such a conclusion just doesn’t make any sense at all.

So here is my recommendation: calm your fears about all this and let’s just wait and see. I have a funny feeling it is going to go in the right direction after all. And it will be a jolly good hoot to watch all those deniers squirm awkwardly when they realise what’s really going on, won’t it?

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