Don’t panic – the end of DECC could be good news
By Jill Duggan, Director of The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group
4 August 2016
I was at DECC when it was formed, working as a civil servant under Ed Miliband, its first Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. So I know more than most the positive contribution it made to government policy. But while I know many people in the environment and business community were dismayed to hear the recent announcement that DECC is no more, it could in fact be a positive, progressive move.
First, some context: this was no real surprise. The possibility of merging DECC and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has been around for some time. It was talked about before the 2010 election, and before the election last year.
It’s not unusual for departments to merge and change. DECC has only existed since 2008 and was originally formed to bring energy policymakers and climate change policymakers together to build a more coherent overall strategy. BIS too was only formed in 2009. Now that they are being brought back into one department that includes industry, it could again help form a more coherent strategy: one that unifies energy, climate change and business objectives.
There is a certain hierarchy to departments, and the new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will certainly be seen as more of a ‘big hitter’ within government, more so than DECC ever was. From that point of view, it could give climate a stronger voice.
There is a strong rationale for embedding climate change into normal government business and particularly for looking at decarbonising industrial sectors. In that context it makes sense to have climate change policymakers in with the people setting industrial strategy.
Externally and internationally, the removal of ‘climate change’ from a department’s name has undoubtedly caused concern. But in truth, tackling climate change cannot be done in isolation. It can be a very positive growth story about innovation, about reinvigorating industrial strategy in a way that is resilient for the future and unleashes a whole wave of creativity. That is one of the lessons of the last decade: you start with an intractable problem, you move to a commitment to do something about it, and finally – as we are starting to see now – a whole swathe of businesses and entrepreneurs are thinking in a very different way about how to provide the goods and services we want in a zero carbon economy.
That requires us to not think first and foremost about climate change, but about progress. Sometimes not talking about climate change can be helpful. There are businesses who recognise the importance of climate change, and others whose main focus is providing goods and services into a market and just need more certainty as to what that market will look like. A truly holistic industrial strategy could drive businesses towards zero carbon practices without even noticing they are doing so.
All that said, business leaders will want to see very strong statements from the new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to show a continued commitment to tackling climate change. There is a strong logic behind merging climate change and energy with industry, but it is up to the new department to make its intentions clear.
Greg Clarke, the Secretary of State for the new department, has a track record that gives us reason for optimism. He was the shadow DECC minister prior to the 2010 election, and I understand that he is very well informed on climate change issues. If so, his leading the department could be seen as a strong move.
Companies, such as the members of The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group, are likely to want reassurance from Clarke’s new department in the form of statements indicating the importance of climate change on any new energy policy and reaffirming the Government’s commitment to tackling climate change.
Yes, the Climate Change Act does provide a level of assurance, but there is nothing quite so important as statements from whoever is in charge of the policy department. The Secretary of State must set the tone for the new department.
The UK has been a country of high commitment on climate change, and we all want to see it continue to be so.