The UK's department of energy and climate change has been disbanded. The country’s energy policy will now be decided by a new department headed up by former communities minister Greg Clark, who has been appointed secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy.
In the wake of a huge cabinet reshuffle, which has seen heads roll across Whitehall in the wake of Theresa May’s rise to 10 Downing Street, a new department has been created to take on the briefs left by the closures of two government departments.
The skills brief of the department of business, innovation and skills has been passed to Justine Greening’s education post, while Clark will take on the increased responsibilities of the business department. Climate change has not been integrated into the name of any new or existing department.
The new role is almost a direct swap with outgoing business secretary Sajid Javid who has been moved to the department of communities and local government (DCLG).
Theresa May has assured Conservative MPs that her government will continue to be an international leader on climate change, and it would be odd not to continue with that 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
Clark has held the energy portfolio in the past having served as shadow energy and climate change secretary between October 2008 and May 2010 when he became minister of state for DCLG.
He has been heavily involved in blocking a number of solar farms from being developed while in this post. According to the Planning Resource, he dismissed almost 100MW of solar capacity in the three months to February and has since ruled against a number of solar farms of different sizes, often citing possible harm to the green belt as his reasoning in agreement with the Planning Inspectorate.
Clark is thought to be a supporter of fracking, after a letter leaked in July 2015 bearing his name alongside then energy secretary Amber Rudd and former environment secretary Liz Truss claimed the ministers wanted “a maturing shale gas production industry” within ten years.
He then courted controversy after taking the decision to reject fracking away from Lancashire council, claiming the proposals were “of major importance having more than local significance”.
However, he has also championed the green agenda in two papers written during his time at shadow DECC, leading on the positive economic impact of the UK as a leader in the low carbon economy.
Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), said: “Greg Clark is an excellent appointment. 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.”
His appointment has also been welcomed by James Court, head of policy and external affairs, who said: “We are delighted Greg Clark has been appointed the new secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy. He previously showed real vision as the shadow energy secretary and we look forward to working with him once again in order to get things moving on the deployment of new renewable energy infrastructure.”
The disappearance of DECC has sparked some concerns from industry and politicians, with Labour’s Jonathan Reynolds today suggesting that scrapping the department could be taken as a signal that the new government attaches less significance to the issues it dealt with.
Commenting on this view, Black added: “Theresa May has assured Conservative MPs that her government will continue to be an international leader on climate change, and it would be odd not to continue with that 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.”
Despite this, climate change campaigners have reacted with shock to the news. Craig Bennett, chief executive of Friends of the Earth, said: “This is shocking news. Less than a day into the job and it appears that the new Prime Minister has already downgraded action to tackle climate change, one of the biggest threats we face.
“If Theresa May supports strong action on climate change, as she’s previously said, it’s essential that this is made a top priority for the new business and energy department and across government.”