Green groups should embrace, not bemoan, the merger of DECC and BIS
As of yesterday afternoon, the Department of Energy and Climate Change is no more. It has been merged with BIS into a new department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy, with Greg Clark at the helm (incidentally, how are we supposed to pronounce the name of this new department – ‘bees’?).
Many green groups, politicians and commentators have been quick to criticise the move. Ed Miliband, the first Secretary of State at DECC, described the move as ‘just plain stupid’. Caroline Lucas described it as ‘deeply worrying’. Craig Bennett, CEO of Friends of the Earth said it was ‘shocking news’. James Thornton of lawyers ClientEarth said it sends a ‘terrible signal’. And Kofi Annan and a group of other global leaders said that they ‘regret the decision to scrap DECC’.
The presumption by these commentators is that the change of name implies a downgrade of the UK’s commitment to tackling climate change. The suggestion is that by dropping the words ‘climate change’ from the name on the front door, the policy goes out the window. But why should this be the case? Do we insist on referring to the Treasury as the ‘Department for Economic Policy, Tax and Public Spending, Financial Services, and Major Infrastructure projects’…. No. Despite limiting its name to just ‘Energy and Climate Change’, did DECC manage a range of related issues including nuclear cleanup, fuel poverty, energy security and so on… Yes.
The UK has a strong commitment to tackling climate change, with one of, if not the, most ambitious carbon targets in the world, in the form of the Climate Change Act. Government just agreed an ambitious fifth carbon budget to 2032. Over the last few weeks, Amber Rudd and Andrea Leadsom have repeatedly reiterated the commitment to tackling climate change. Greg Clark mentioned climate change in his first statement to the media. He was previously the Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change from 2008-10 – during which time he made a strong case for taking action on climate change, and stated the importance of CCS, energy efficiency, and innovation to tackle climate change (see a roundup of quotes here).
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 combination of business, energy and industrial strategy also offers some significant opportunities to mainstream climate change into business and industry. The UK’s decarbonisation efforts to date have largely revolved around decarbonising the power sector (as shown in the most recent report by the CCC), with limited progress made in industry. The new departmental structure will facilitate joined up thinking across industry and climate change. It also offers the opportunity for closer links between energy & climate and research & innovation. The UK has to date taken a half-hearted approach to industrial strategy, but the new structure creates the opportunity to develop a proper industrial strategy for energy and low carbon industries.
Some ‘brave’ green groups have already recognized these possibilities – such as Aldersgate Group, Green Alliance and ECIU. To the others I would say: stop bemoaning the demise of DECC. It has happened. It opens up more opportunities than it closes down. Embrace these opportunities.