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by Emma Petela 29th July, 2016
3 min read

What’s happened to climate change?

The decision to scrap the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and fold its brief into the newly created Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) department has caused environment campaigners to express concern that tackling climate change will no longer be a priority for the government.

DECC was established by Gordon Brown in October 2008 in an attempt to create a more streamlined and tougher approach to energy and climate change policy, particularly on an international stage. This saw the UK play a leading role in setting European laws and directives, for example in the case of the EU’s 2030 climate target, where the UK pushed for a more ambitious reduction than the “at least 40%” that was eventually agreed to.

However, with the departmental merger and the disappearance of climate change from the departmental name, most commentators have agreed that the new BEIS has signalled a softening of Britain’s stance on climate change. In a ministerial statement from the Prime Minister announcing the merger of DECC and BIS, it was stated that “one of the main challenges in tackling climate change is to try to reduce carbon emissions without jeopardising economic growth”. This will add to concerns that reducing carbon emissions will take a back seat if government views it as something which stifles economic growth.

The Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, Mary Creagh MP, recently wrote to the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis MP, to seek assurances that environmental protection will remain a priority in light of the UK leaving the EU. This also echoes similar moves by the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee, which earlier this month launched inquiries into the implications of leaving the EU on energy policy and on climate change policy.

We are yet to see Theresa May take a stance on energy and climate change issues. She has been largely silent on the issue of climate change since becoming an MP, and her voting record on the environment while in government mirrors that of her party. Yesterday’s surprise announcement that the government will undertake a further review of the Hinkley Point nuclear power station only hours after EDF approved the project, will reopen the debate on the future of the UK’s energy supply and could risk a further set back to climate change as a priority for the new government.

For the time being there is a feeling across the sector that whilst we are a far cry away from being “the greenest government ever”, much will remain the same for now. The future of climate change policy remains very much uncertain at this stage and environment campaigners will more than ever need to bang the drum for climate change issues.

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