DECC’s new minister - can he mix business and climate?

  • 03 Feb 2012, 15:30
  • Ros Donald

Liberal Democrat business minister Ed Davey has been named the UK's minister for energy and climate change after Chris Huhne announced he is stepping down from cabinet. We check out his climate credentials and consider how he'll bring his experience as a business minister to bear on the energy and climate change brief.

Huhne, who was minister for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) since the coalition government was elected in 2008 2010, will now appear in court to answer charges that his former wife, Vicky Pryce, took speeding points on his behalf.  One of the political consequences of Huhne's departure is the obvious effect it will have on the UK's climate change policy.

Davey - until today minister for employment relations, consumer and postal affairs at the department for Business, Industry and Skills - has garnered praise from prominent Conservatives for his pro-business views. He also has a record of voting for tough climate policy measures and backed funding new supercomputers for the Met Office. Perhaps not surprising for a Liberal Democrat - the question might be how well will he be able to square the climate and business agendas in office.

Conservative Home says treasury sources are hoping the politician to replace the "formidable" Huhne will be more pragmatic than his predecessor - whose "energy policies have been hurting UK manufacturing". The blog also predicts UK chancellor George Osborne will "see the change as an opportunity to kick some green policies into the longer grass".

As we blog here, Osborne has made coded attacks on the idea of reducing carbon emissions, including questioning expectations that the UK would lead carbon reduction in Europe, and has tipped his hat to the argument that environmental regulations are behind rises in energy bills.

But while Conservative Home notes David Cameron's aide, Steve Hilton, (apparently not convinced about global warming) has applauded Davey's business credentials, it remains to be seen what approach Davey will take on topical environmental issues  - such as the UK's unique legally-binding carbon reduction targets.

According to The Public Whip, Davey has a strong voting record on climate mitigation policy. He's backed measures such as emissions performance standards for power stations and including aviation and shipping emissions in the Climate Change Act's reduction targets - measures for which there are less enthusiasm in other areas of government.

Outlook hopeful for the Met office

During his time at BIS, Davey also oversaw the UK's weather forecasting and temperature recording service, the Met Office. He appeared late last year before the government's science and technology select committee supporting the Met Office's request for new supercomputers to help improve its forecasting capability.

He said:

"While you do have to build a business case, I think it is sensible to invest in scientists and facilities that may be able to improve forecasting."

Davey defended the office's forecasting record against criticism by MPs, saying its output is regarded as "the best in the world" in terms of reliability. On Davey's watch, the government has also shelved plans the Conservatives proposed while in opposition to privatise the Met Office. Davey said the current government plan to reposition the office within a new public data corporation "would have to overcome 'difficult hurdles' [...] such as guaranteeing continued access to 'absolutely vital' information".

Of course it's impossible to tell what he's going to do at DECC. But with a business background and at least some working knowledge of the field, it'll be interesting to see how he intervenes in the continuing tussle between different sections of the government over climate and energy legislation.

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