The general election caused many upsets in Westminster but one of the major setbacks that few have discussed was one felt by the environmental community. Nick Hurd, the Climate Change Minister, was unduly dispatched from his position in the Department for Business Energy and Industry Strategy and moved to the Home Office. This is technically a promotion for Nick and a sentimental move given his father was Home Secretary in the 80’s but we certainly didn’t want to lose one of our greatest champions.
Nick is a longstanding member of the Conservative Environment Network and has campaigned for higher environmental standards and protecting the natural environment for years. In BEIS he had an influential role in the UK’s ratification of the Paris Agreement and carried out robust work to develop the proposed Clean Growth Plan. To judge him on his record in office, you need only read the lengthy Twitter streams from across the spectrum- from Greenpeace activists to FTSE100 CSR Chiefs – thanking him for his work in BEIS and declaring how much they would miss him. The ‘Green Lobby’ is a hard group to please but given the political upheaval of the past two years he hit the nail on the head every time. We were lucky to have him.
In the midst of uncertainly during the re-shuffle, Claire Perry was announced as Nick’s replacement. Claire was certainly not an obvious choice but after searching through her parliamentary contributions commentators were quick to reveal that she’s been on the right side of the arguments. In a blog post in February 2016, Perry wrote that climate change is “one of the most serious threats we face” and concluded that the Paris deal was a “historic” achievement for the Conservative Government. She has also promoted action around issues concerning renewable energy and long-term emissions reductions.
Claire’s first major outing in her new role was addressing the Business Green Awards last night. The room was not only filled with the great and the good from the green business sector but also one of its hero’s, Christiana Figueres, who gave the key note speech. Christiana was, until last year, the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and one of the key global leaders who helped secure the Paris Climate Agreement. Her speech last night thrilled the room by thanking Donald Trump for bringing the climate world closer together and outlining that electrification, automation and the shared economy are the three new industrial revolutions for successful climate action.
It was a hard act to follow but Claire Perry was impressive and determined. She admitted her nerves given it was only her first week in the job but quickly outlined her intensions and timeframe over the next few months. Having picked up the baton from Nick Hurd on the Clean Growth Plan – the framework for how Britain will reduce emissions in the 2020s and 2030s – she recognised how frustrated the sector had been by delays and promised to publish it just after Summer Recess. She went further and stated that not only did she want to make it more ambitious than its current draft but that she wanted it to be the “greatest thing the UK has done since the Climate Change Act” in 2008.
After months of political uncertainly, this firm commitment could not have come at a more crucial time. The Government’s Climate Change Committee (CCC) announced today that Britain has reached the half way point in our target to reduce 80% of our emissions by 2050 based on 1990 levels. However, this progress is stalling and new strategies and policies are needed to ensure ambitious greenhouse gas emissions cuts continue. The CCC noted that success so far has largely been confined to the power sector, while those from the UK’s building stock and transport industries are rising. The CCC further warned that Britain is on track to miss its legally-binding emission reduction targets for the mid-2020s onwards, prompting calls for more action in the heat, buildings, industry, transport and agriculture sectors in the upcoming Clean Growth Plan.
With Brexit negotiations diverting a lot of attention and resources, climate change issues cannot be left behind. Michael Gove for example must set out how he is going to transpose 80% of UK environmental regulations from the EU whilst fighting a court case on air quality and standing up the National Farmers Union on reforming the Common Agricultural Policy- this is no mean feat.
Before the election, the green business community may have been frustrated by delays to the Clean Growth Plan but they supported Nick in wanting to get it right. His expertise and passion was always going to be hard to beat but Claire Perry’s ambition should be applauded. With these fresh warnings from the CCC, there is a lot of work to do in BEIS over the summer but I look forward to seeing Claire’s invigorated Clean Growth Plan.