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Minister for Civil Society Nick Hurd at the OGP Annual Summit in London
UK POLICY
21 July 2016 15:46

Nick Hurd confirmed as climate minister in new UK department

Sophie Yeo

Sophie Yeo

07.21.16
Sophie Yeo

Sophie Yeo

21.07.2016 | 3:46pm
UK policyNick Hurd confirmed as climate minister in new UK department

Update 1/8/16 — BEIS has now officially confirmed that Nick Hurd will take on the role of Minister of State for Climate Change and Industry and Baroness Neville-Rolfe of Minister of State for Energy and Intellectual Property. Jesse Norman has been appointed Minister for Industry and Energy.

The government’s decision to merge the Department of Energy and Climate Change with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will boost efforts to reduce carbon emissions, it has promised.

This, and the appointment of a number of “Green Tories” to ministerial posts in the new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, could help to allay fears that climate change will not be a priority for the new government under Theresa May.

A briefing (pdf) entitled “The Machinery of Government” released this week sought to clarify the role of the new department, which will be headed by former communities secretary Greg Clark. It says:

One of the main challenges in tackling climate change is to try to reduce carbon emissions without jeopardising economic growth. This merger will enable a whole economy approach to delivering our climate change ambitions, effectively balancing the priorities of growth and carbon reduction.

It adds that combining energy policy with industrial strategy will “be beneficial to shaping a competitive business environment for energy intensive industries”. This includes the UK steel sector, where the impact of electricity prices came under scrutiny following the closure of Tata Steel.

It also means that all tasks relating to civil nuclear issues — including nuclear clean-up, which has consumed almost all of DECC’s annual budget — will be brought together under one department.

The new department will continue to exercise joint responsibility with the Department for International Development for the delivery of the International Climate Fund, which is the pot of money that the UK spends on climate related projects overseas.

This has led to confusion about whether the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has been stripped of its partial responsibility here, which a spokesperson has denied.

Diagram: The origin of the newly-formed Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and its responsibilities.

The origin of the newly-formed Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and its responsibilities. By Rosamund Pearce for Carbon Brief.

The department will also work closely with the following bodies:

 Non-Ministerial Government departments

  • Competition and markets authority
  • Land Registry
  • Ofgem
  • Ordnance Survey

Executive non-departmental public bodies

  • Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service
  • Arts and Humanities Research Council
  • Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
  • British Hallmarking Council
  • Civil Nuclear Police Authority
  • Coal Authority
  • Committee on Climate Change
  • Competition Service
  • Economic and Social Research Council
  • Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
  • Innovate UK
  • Medical Research Council
  • Natural Environment Research Council
  • Nuclear Decommissioning Authority
  • Science and Technology Facilities Council
  • UK Atomic Energy Authority

Tribunals

  • Central Arbitration Committee
  • Competition Appeal Tribunal
  • Copyright Tribunal

 Advisory non-departmental public bodies

Executive agencies

Other

The Committee on Climate Change, the government’s independent advisory board, has also offered its support to the new department. In a blog, Lord Deben, chairman of the CCC, writes:

The new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is well positioned to ensure that the UK exploits its strengths in low-carbon industries and delivers the carbon budgets. The department will need to produce industrial strategies, an energy strategy and an overall vision for business that incorporate tackling climate change as one of the key drivers of future business success. The new department should also be well-placed to ensure the UK’s strong research base in climate change and technology supports that vision alongside domestic and international progress to tackle climate change.

Ministerial appointments

The government has appointed Nick Hurd, former parliamentary under secretary at the Department for International Development, to the position of Minister with responsibility for climate change at the new department, according to a letter seen by Carbon Brief. His remit includes steel and representing the UK at UN climate negotiations.

Meanwhile, Baroness Neville-Rolfe will take on the responsibility of Minister for Energy.

Nick Hurd

Climate change is not a new topic to Nick Hurd, who has written and spoken on the subject throughout his political career.

He has served on the Environmental Audit Committee and on the Climate Change Bill committee, which helped to scrutinize the 2008 legislation, and was chairman of the climate change sub-group of the Quality of Life policy review commission between 2006 and 2008. He is currently a supporter of the Conservative Environment Network.

He has also opposed the government’s plans for a third runway at Heathrow, partly on the grounds that it would increase emissions from aviation.

During a trip to Zambia in May 2016, where he was promoting the UK’s efforts to improve energy access in Africa, he said that climate change was “one of the most urgent and pressing challenges that we face and without action the world will get hungrier, poorer and more dangerous”.

Here are some of his other stated positions on climate change over the past decade:

2015: On coal and gas

Building new gas plants is easy, there are no supply chain bottlenecks, and this new capacity would significantly improve the reliability of our power system. It would also provide a boost to gas demand that could support the UK offshore and onshore gas sectors, which is a stated objective of the Government. For these reasons alone, a phase out of coal plants by the end of 2020 is compelling. Security of supply and reliability would be improved, existing gas assets would be used more, new gas plants would be built, and gas demand would support UK gas production.
But there are also other no less compelling reasons. The first is air pollution. According to a recent study there are 1,600 premature deaths annually caused by air pollution from the UK’s coal plants… The second is energy security: 49 per cent of our coal was imported from Russia in Q1 2015. Do we really want to be buying coal from Russia, and by doing so support the Russian economy? For anyone concerned with energy security, the answer has to be no. The third is reducing the cost of tackling climate change: in 2014 coal plants accounted for 60 per cent of carbon emissions from our power sector.

2008: On aviation and Heathrow

I was making the point that we cannot afford an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude to aviation and shipping, because the policy challenge is too great. It requires the Government of the day to get a grip on it, and the harsh reality is that this Government have been extremely clumsy in the signals that they have sent through their policies on aviation. We have had a clumsy increase in air passenger duty, which has given green taxes a bad name because it was closely associated with the concept of stealth taxes. We seem to be slow-marching towards the wrong decision on Heathrow. It was desperately disappointing that one of the first signals from a new Secretary of State in a new Department was simply to confirm that existing position on Heathrow. The Under-Secretary will be aware that it is hard to persuade those in this country, let alone any other, that we are serious about controlling emissions from aviation if we give the green light to the expansion of the fastest-growing source of emissions.

2007: On governance

In fact, this contribution will argue that the right policy response to the challenge of serious climate instability is rooted in principles and instincts that are distinctively Conservative. The central role of government is to set a clear and credible framework. Once the limits have been set, the government should leave us free to make our own choices and focus on making it as easy as possible for us to make the changes. Rather than preach and complicate, it should persuade and simplify. We cannot rely on politicians but have to develop a sense of social, shared responsibility. Rather than impose solutions from the centre, we should be looking to empower people to find out what is right for them.

2007: On carbon pricing

The market is the most cost effective way to drive behaviour change and raise standards – but markets can be imperfect and it falls to government to correct market failures.The priority now is to ensure that the market puts a fair value on carbon. Our freedom to choose needs to be based on proper prices.

2006: On Britain’s role

My personal view is that it is entirely right for Britain to seek a leadership role. It is important to establish that point, because one hears voices-I hear them in my constituency-saying, “Why are you banging on about this subject? It is all about the United States and China.” It is not, and not least because of the point made by the hon. Member for Eastleigh Chris Huhne. We are not 2 per cent. of the problem. Given that carbon molecules stay in the atmosphere for 100 years, we are significantly more than 2 per cent. of the problem. There is a strong moral case to be made for British leadership on this issue. Our society has prospered on the back of easy access to cheap fossil fuels, and the price is being picked up by the poor countries. That is the reality-if one believes in the theory of human impact on climate change-and the moral case for British leadership on this issue.

2006: On deforestation

It is striking that almost 20 per cent. of our carbon emissions come from deforestation-a broadly similar proportion to that in the United States. In theory, we can control the practice, as humans are responsible for it. In theory, too, that should be cheaper than restructuring the way in which we produce, distribute and consume energy, although I think that we shall have to do that as well. However, the global community is slow to grasp this opportunity, even though it ought to be pretty close to the top of the list of cost-effective actions that we could take.

2005: On climate science

It is clear that we are living a dangerous experiment with current levels of carbon concentration in our atmosphere. We are at 381 parts per million and growing, according to Sir David King, at 2 parts per million per annum. We do not know what a safe level is. The working scientific assumption is 550 parts per million, which is thought to be compatible with an increase of 2° this century. Even if we could stabilise concentrations at 550 parts per million-and it remains a huge “if”-we face, in the words of Sir David King, very severe impacts around the world, leaving aside the impact on biodiversity. The scale and pace of these impacts are uncertain, but the message from the scientific community is that the risks are rising, not falling.

2005: On China and Brazil

The most urgent priority must be to minimise the carbon intensity of industrial development in China, India and Brazil. If we do not, we will find ourselves locked quickly into an even higher level of carbon concentrations. The solution, as the Prime Minister knows, lies in technology. That technology is increasingly available, whether it be micro-generation, solar, wind or new generation nuclear power, clean coal or hybrid cars, but it is relatively expensive.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe

Less is known about Baroness Neville-Rolfe’s historic views on climate change. Before entering government in 2013, she was an executive director on the board of Tesco, where she supported the supermarket’s efforts to reduce emissions, and said she was in favour of an international agreement to tackle climate change. She expressed her current thinking during a Lords debate on the fifth carbon budget earlier this week.

2016: On the Climate Change Act

The Act was passed with near-unanimous cross-party support, and this legal framework has inspired countries across the world, including Denmark, Finland and France. At its heart is a system of five-year cycles, mirrored in the historic Paris climate agreement, which the UK helped to achieve. The certainty given by the Act underpins the investment we have seen in the low-carbon economy since 2010. This is an industry of course with extraordinarily long timeframes. The Government remain committed to the Climate Change Act and to meeting its targets for an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels, and to meeting the subsequent five-year carbon budgets that have been set under the Act.

2016: On UK emissions reductions

The carbon budget for 2028-32 will  ​ensure that the UK economy is best placed to realise the opportunities that this transition presents. What is important is not just the target but an acceptance that we mean to meet it. Our emission reductions to date give us confidence. The UK met the first carbon budget and is on track to meet the second and third. Provisional figures show that UK emissions in 2015 could be 38% lower than in 1990 and more than 3% below those in 2014. The past two years have seen the greatest annual emission reductions against a backdrop of a growing economy.

2016: On the UK’s commitment to climate change

Climate change has not been downgraded as a threat; it remains one of the most serious long-term risks. The title of a department matters far less than its DNA and what it does, as I explained this afternoon to the assembled former DECC staff in the building in Whitehall Place—where I originally started my Civil Service career. Energy and climate change will be at the heart of the new department.

2016: On the Paris Agreement

I can confirm that this Government remain committed to ratifying the Paris agreement, which was agreed last year by 195 countries, as soon as possible. Our policy will also look at affordable and reliable energy, and generally join things up in the way that I described in my opening remarks.

2016: On shipping and aviation

There is currently no internationally agreed solution to allocating emissions to specific  ​countries in shipping. How do you deal with a British ship going from Rio to Naples? We are working, through the International Maritime Organization, to provide a way forward. We believe that unilateral action could undermine our ability to get the right agreement. The Committee on Climate Change did not recommend that we include aviation emissions in our budget at this stage, but that is not to say that we will not do so in due course when the International Civil Aviation Organization has agreed how they should be accounted for. So I can see some very interesting accounting issues in my new job.
Main image: Minister for Civil Society Nick Hurd at the OGP Annual Summit in London in 2013. Photo: Cabinet Office via Flickr.
Sharelines from this story
  • Nick Hurd confirmed as climate minister in new UK department
  • NB DEFRA is not the “Department of Energy, Food, and Rural Affairs”, it’s the “Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs”;- i.e. “for Environment”, not “of Energy”

  • DoRightThing

    Well, this is tentatively reassuring that the UK is taking climate change seriously.
    We will know how seriously, if and when the GWPF gets dumped in the trashcan of infamy!

  • Paul Monaghan

    None of these roles as yet confirmed by BEIS or the individuals?

  • Brian Mallalieu

    Pardon me asking, but can anyone else read anything specific about energy management/efficiency & renewable energy? Well Baroness?


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