Theresa May, the new Prime Minister, has abolished the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and subsumed it into the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).
BIS has been renamed the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Greg Clark, former Secretary of State for the Department of Communities and Local Government, has been appointed to head the new ministry.
The announcement was made yesterday, as part of May’s reshuffle, which also saw Andrea Leadsom, a former Climate Change Minister and Brexiteer, appointed Environment Secretary.
Commenting on his new position, Clark, who served as Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change from 2008 to 2010, 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.”
The decision to axe DECC was met with concern by many green advocates, who fear it could spell a downgrading of climate change at Whitehall.
"The decision to shut down DECC is a deeply worrying move from Theresa May," said Green MP Caroline Lucas in a statement. "Climate change is the biggest challenge we face, and it must not be an afterthought for the Government.”
Ed Miliband, who was appointed Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change when DECC was first created under Gordon Brown’s Labour Government, tweeted: “DECC abolition just plain stupid. Climate not even mentioned in new dept. title. Matters because depts shape priorities shape outcomes.”
Chair of the House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee Angus Brendan MacNeil MP, expressed his “astonishment” at the axing of DECC, while stating there would be no immediate impact on ECC Committee: “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. […] 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% from their 1990 baseline? Which Department will take responsibility for the energy and climate aspects of negotiations to leave the EU? Who will champion decarbonisation in Cabinet? Who will drive innovation in the energy sector?”
Stephen Devlin, environmental economist at the New Economic Foundation, added: “Abolishing the Department of Energy and Climate Change is a terrible move by our new Prime Minister and signals a troubling de-prioritisation of climate change by this Government. This reshuffle risks dropping climate change from the policy agenda altogether – a staggering act of negligence for which we will all pay the price.”
“Theresa May must reaffirm her Government’s commitment to the 2008 Climate Change Act. This world-leading piece of legislation commits us to an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050 and 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.”
James Thornton, CEO of Client Earth, the environmental activist law firm, said: “Scrapping the department devoted to tackling climate change is a statement of disregard for one of the most challenging economic, social and environmental issues humans have ever faced. It also sends a terrible signal at the worst possible time, undermining efforts to secure a clean safe energy future.”
But there was also support shown for Clark’s position and competence on climate change and the potential benefits of bringing business and energy and climate change under one roof.
Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit's director Richard Black said: “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.
“The disappearance of DECC as a stand-alone government department will of course raise concerns that the UK is going to ‘go soft’ on climate change.”
“The new department for business, energy, and industrial strategy can be a real powerhouse for change, joining up Whitehall teams to progress the resilient, sustainable, and low carbon infrastructure that we urgently need,” said David Nussbaum, chief executive of WWF-UK.
“Climate change must be hard-wired into the new department of business, energy and industrial strategy and our economy need climate change to be at its very heart.”
Nussbaum also commented on Leadsom’s appointment as Environment Secretary at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
“Now more than ever the Secretary of State for the Environment has a huge and vital role to play in deciding the future of our country. Key to this ambition will be to develop a 25 year plan for the environment which was also a manifesto commitment; a generational commitment by our country that we will safeguard nature and wildlife, both at home or overseas.
“Andrea Leadsom should set out the Government’s ambition for world-leading environmental policy, maintaining but also improving on our existing framework of laws, whether national, European or international.”
Former Energy and Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd was promoted this week to Home Secretary.