Will DECC’s replacement de-prioritise Britain’s climate change strategy?

The majority of large business energy users fear that the recent removal of the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) will leave climate change "swept under the rug", according to a survey addressing the implications of the newly-formed Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) for business-led climate action.

The survey of 50 major energy users across the country, conducted by energy consultancy Inenco, revealed that the majority of firms are worried about the de-prioritisation of climate change following DECC’s closure, with 56% of respondents voicing concern over the removal of a department focused solely on energy.

Outlining an approach to tackling climate change was viewed as highly important by 46% of respondents. However, only a quarter believed it would ensure climate change is embedded into business strategy with a Minister of State for Climate Change and Industry overseeing carbon budgets, the green economy and industry and manufacturing.

Inenco Group chief commercial officer David Cockshott said: “The creation of a Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) should be positive news at a time when billions of pounds are needed in new low carbon infrastructure and when rising costs are impacting business’ bottom lines across the country.

“Businesses are clearly concerned that a new government with new ministers could delay crucial decisions, from future infrastructure and action on climate change to clarity around future compliance and incentives.”

Business as usual?

Asked for their views on the creation of BEIS, 42% of the large energy users asserted that energy would move higher up the agenda, with a more joined up approach to business energy.

Two-thirds of respondents believed that the ministry’s primary focus should be the creation of a long-term green policy framework. And a general consensus was that BEIS should prevent a post-Brexit investment hiatus by providing investors and the market with “confidence in the security of their investments and a clear indication of the future direction”.

“It will be important that Government act swiftly to provide industry and investors with the long-term certainty they need to plan with confidence for the future,” Cockshott added.

The need for a conclusion from the recent consultation on business energy efficiency taxes was also paramount. More than 70% wanted to find out what energy efficiency grants or incentives would be offered to businesses, and 62% were eager for the Government to focus on publishing its proposals for a single energy reporting framework.

Commenting on the survey’s findings, EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, told edie that they “very much chime with the current mood within the energy sector and from conversations we’ve had with members”.

‘Capacity crunch’

EEF’s senior energy and environment policy adviser Richard Warren said: “Even before the political roller-coaster of the past few weeks, there was a feeling a real uncertainty amongst energy investors following a number of major, and often unexpected, policy changes. The Brexit vote, the change of government and yet more delays on the Hinkley decision have further compounded this.

“All of this uncertainty adds to the costs of new infrastructure which ultimately energy consumers must pay for; with the UK’s industrial electricity prices already the highest in the EU the Government must be alleviating not exacerbating this. More importantly, there is a major potential capacity crunch on the horizon which the Government must show it has a credible plan to address.

“That said, we are hopeful that bringing the responsibilities of BIS and DECC together in one new department will bring greater consistency and focus to UK energy policy and deliver the long term energy strategy we need. It is now up to BEIS to rise to this challenge.”  

The replacement of DECC with BEIS has left a degree of uncertainty over future energy and climate change policies, with a number of environmental groups now urging the department and its newly-appointed ministers to demonstrate a commitment to green issues.

Just yesterday, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) called on the UK Government to renew its pledge to supporting renewables, with an emphasis on “deep water” energy, on the same day that a consultation on renewable energy support closed.

Last week, the Renewable Energy Association (REA) urged BEIS to reverse a cut to renewable energy subsidy support which was initiated by its governmental predecessor DECC.

George Ogleby 

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