A Sad Set Back for UK Climate Efforts

During her first full day in office, United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May made the move to abolish the Department of Energy and Climate Change inside the government. She decided that the responsibilities previously overseen by the department would be absorbed by the new Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS). May shifted these responsibilities because she wanted the government to focus on the much more important issues of economic growth, international competitiveness and leaving the European Union, the decision will provide vital savings and put more emphasis on cost-effective policy-making.

However there has been skepticism and disapproval thrown around because of this change. Many officials and environmentalists believe that by doing away with the department solely created to deal with the climate crisis is a huge down play on environmental and climate change efforts. Green Party MP Caroline Lucas stated that, “dealing with climate change requires a dedicated Minister at the Cabinet table. To throw it into the basement of another Whitehall department, looks like a serious backwards step.”

Conversely, Greg Clark, who May chose to head the climate change and energy responsibilities within the BEIS reflects on the shift positively: “I am thrilled to have been appointed to lead this new department charged with delivering a comprehensive industrial strategy, leading Government’s relationship with business, furthering our world-class science base, delivering affordable, clean energy and tackling climate change.” Some environmental authorities have recognized other positives to the reshuffling of responsibilities as well, like the ability for the new department to become a potential “powerhouse for change” if climate change “was hardwired” into it.

Others are worried that this transfer could risk the potential of dropping of climate change from the policy agenda altogether. There is worry that this is a sign of “de-prioritization” of climate change. “Tackling climate change is an era-defining challenge that must direct and determine what industries we develop, what transport infrastructure we construct, how we manage our land and what our diets look like. It requires a central coordinated strategy; if we leave it to the afterthoughts of other departments we will fail,” says Stephen Devlin, an environmental economist at the New Economics Foundation. At a time when the issues of Climate Change are already being felt globally, it might not have been best to scrap the department dedicated to tackling it.