Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The UK's "Climate Change" department goes up in smoke

Is the department for climate change is about to become a victim of the fiscal cuts and be swallowed up by that venerable green department - the Treasury of Stern Review fame?

I particularly like Chris Huhnes argument that he worries his climate change department staff will "go native" if relocated to the treasury. It paints an interesting picture.

Does this mean the sandal wearing hippies in the climate change department will suddenly cut their hair and start wearing pin stripe suits and bowler hats?

Predictably the head of Greenpeace calls the proposal "sheer insanity".

Is this just another example of "green issues" being the first to go when real economic pain kicks in? Is climate change concern a luxury good?

Chris Huhne fights Treasury to save his climate department [Guardian]

Climate change secretary Chris Huhne is fighting to defend his department's funding and independence, fending off a suggestion that his civil servants should be moved to the Treasury to cut costs.

Huhne is having to resist the Treasury on numerous policy fronts. He has rejected the relocation idea, fearing his department's civil servants would "go native" if they moved into offices in the Treasury.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) was created in 2008 by combining responsibilities which had been part of the previous business and environment departments. The move was praised at the time as an attempt to connect two areas of policy that had sometimes acted in competition.

But when all government departments were asked to model the effect of 40% cuts over the summer, officials at Decc told ministers that cuts of that level to its £3.2bn budget would make it unable to stand alone as a viable entity. At that time it was suggested it merge with the business department, but that was never formally suggested to the Treasury. Instead the Treasury renewed a push to get Decc relocated.

Decc and the Treasury would not be the only ministries sharing. The permanent secretary at the department for culture, media and sport is making plans to move in to the department for international development.

The news came today as Huhne gave his speech to the Liberal Democrat conference. His pitch was that the government wanted to foster a "third industrial revolution" in low-carbon technology. But the techno-optimism of the speech sat awkwardly with the news that he has been forced to contemplate breaking up his department.

Observers are concerned about the relationship between Decc and the Treasury in the run-up to the forthcoming spending review, which will decide all departments' funding for the next five years.

Within a reduced budget, the climate change secretary is pushing to secure money for a green investment bank and the four carbon capture and storage (CCS) demonstrations to pioneer cleaner coal power stations, brought in by the former climate change secretary, Ed Miliband. Senior civil servants at Decc say the Treasury does not want to provide the upfront costs of the demonstrations, known as CCS4. Senior sources concede the money for CCS4 was in jeopardy but insist that it is now safe.

The bank is a coalition pledge to create an institution supporting the development of low-carbon technologies. Huhne is in negotiations with the economic secretary to the Treasury, Justine Greening, and business secretary, Vince Cable, and their officials over whether the bank would be able to lend money – which Huhne believes to be vital – and the level of public money the Treasury will put into it.


The coalition has stated it will be the "greenest government in history", and Huhne has told MPs that the department is fostering a "third industrial revolution".


John Sauven the head of Greenpeace called the proposal "sheer insanity". "I think it would now be inconceivable for the government to back down after promising so much only a couple of months ago."


No comments: