In fast-moving and uncertain times, there has never been a greater need for leadership on climate change and the environment. Jamie Wylie takes a closer look at the people responsible for tackling climate change in the new government
British politics continues to frustrate and excite us all in equal measures. The whirlwind events of the past week following the General Election have, unbelievably, created even more uncertainties than existed before the election. Brexit, a new coalition, leadership challenges – there’s a worrying number of things about which we simply don’t know what is going to happen.
Before the election, much was made of the need for the new UK Government to provide stability, certainty and clarity over the greatest challenges facing our islands. Yet in the much-discussed TV debates between the party leaders, I can only remember climate change – undoubtedly the greatest challenge we face – being mentioned twice. To be fair, this is two times more than I can remember any main party leader talking about climate change in the run up to an election in previous years (apart from when the President across the pond claimed it was a Chinese hoax).
Who’s who in the new Government?
The inevitable ministerial merry-go-round in the aftermath of the election has resulted in a few changes in key personnel in the Government departments with responsibility for climate change and the environment. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) – which leads on climate change after the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) was binned – is still going to be headed up by Greg Clark. Nick Hurd, who was previously Minister of State for BEIS, has been replaced by Claire Perry. There is some hope for Claire Perry, who is on record saying she was “absolutely delighted” with the UK Government’s commitment to a net-zero carbon emissions target, as set out in at COP21. However, she has a terrible record when voting on environmental issues – she’s voted against measures to tackle climate change eleven times, voted to sell off England’s forests, and voted against financial incentives for low carbon electricity generation.
As for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), Andrea Leadsom has been replaced by Michael Gove as Secretary of State. In the days since this announcement was made, there’s been a lot of concern from environmental organisations about Michael Gove’s track record on climate change and the environment. Back in January, he pushed for our departure from the EU to be used as an opportunity to weaken wildlife protection. He’s also got a less than favourable record on climate change. When Chief Whip of the Conservatives, he is reputed to have stopped Amber Rudd (then the head of DECC) from attending key climate talks in 2014. He’s on record voting against climate change legislation on at least six occasions, including improved CO2 standards on electricity production and housing. And let’s not even talk about *that* photo. Michael Gove will be assisted by George Eustice, who returns to DEFRA to take up his old position as Minister of State. His appointment has also been met with a lot of concern, given that he’s already suggested cutting animal welfare standards.
Despite the Government’s terrible record on climate change and the environment in the previous administration, the new Ministers deserve a chance to judged on their actions in the new administration. Their voting records certainly don’t paint a positive picture, but what matters most is what happens now. Here at UKYCC, we’ll be keeping a close eye on what the Government is doing to protect – or harm – our planet.
Time for leadership on climate action
Surely if there’s any issue where the UK now needs to show leadership, it has to be climate change. Leaving the EU really doesn’t have to mean an end to the UK’s potential to be a true global leader on climate change. With America set to leave the Paris Agreement, we need to group together with our allies in Europe and beyond and commit to investment in renewable energy systems and open up the world of possibility that comes with developing a low carbon economy.
But leadership is about more than just words. We need real action from all levels of government, at a local, regional and national level – and the Government has the power to unlock this action. There is widespread support from all opposition parties, and from many within the Conservative party too. At a time where the future of our planet is hanging in the balance, positioning the UK as a global leader on climate change would restore a little bit of stability in this increasingly unpredictable world.