Under attack

29th July 2015


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  • Politics & Economics ,
  • England ,
  • UK - Devolved Governments, Overseas Territories

Author

Eleanor Glen

Paul Suff fears for the fate of Decc and Defra under government cuts.

Environmental taxation, onshore wind, solar and energy efficiency - the list of environment and low-carbon policy areas that have been axed or scaled back by the government in the first three months of being in office gets longer by the day.

It was less than two years ago that newspaper stories emerged - which were not explicitly denied at the time - that David Cameron was seeking to cut the "green crap". Shorn of any Liberal Democrat influence, it seems the prime minister, aided by the chancellor, George Osborne, is now following through on that ambition.

Environmentalists will rail against the description that policies designed to support the generation of clean energy or improve the energy efficiency of buildings as crap, but the actions being pursued by the government suggest we have a battle on our hands to achieve the economy-wide transition required to meet the targets set out in the Climate Change Act. In its latest progress report on reducing emissions, the Committee on Climate Change warned of a policy gap to achieving the fourth carbon budget (2023-27) and establishing the cost-effective path to the 2050 (80% reduction) target.

That assessment was based on the policy landscape before the election. The raft of announcements since can only mean that gap will get bigger, particularly as the removal of support for the most cost-effective ways of reducing emissions has been accompanied by more help for the North Sea oil and gas sector and the nascent shale industry.

Political commentators suggest that incoming governments tend to deliver bad news in the first couple of years, so it is largely forgotten by the time of the next election. As we're only at the beginning of the government's five-year term, environmentalists may want to brace themselves for more potential discomfort. With the chancellor's demand that non-protected departments deliver budget savings of up to 40%, Decc and Defra, and non-departmental bodies, such as the Environment Agency, will face further cuts.

We reported in June the concerns of environmentalists over the ability of a financially constrained agency to continue to realise its purpose, which is to protect and improve the environment. Given the scale of the savings the Treasury is calling for, it is feasible that Decc or Defra will cease to exist. Perhaps unfavourable headlines in the run-up to the Paris climate summit will provide a stay of execution but, in an environment where public expenditure is being curtailed and green policies are under continuous attack, don't bet against one or both departments disappearing.

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