Paul Suff warns Ed Davey of the pressures that lie ahead for him as the new energy and climate change secretary
In his first public policy comments as the new energy and climate change secretary, Ed Davey stressed that his department would continue to support the roll-out of renewable energy as a way to stimulate “green” economic growth.
“There may have been a change at the helm, but there’ll be no change in direction or ambition,” he said.
Although the true value of his pledge can only be judged by his future actions, environmentalists will be heartened by Davey’s comments, particularly as most will have viewed Chris Huhne’s departure with dismay. Huhne was thought by many to have played a key role in getting the coalition to back the creation of the Green Investment Bank and to endorse a tighter fourth carbon budget.
Davey’s transfer to DECC from the business department comes at a time when MPs supporting the government’s environment agenda increasingly find themselves on the back foot, while confidence among their opponents is rising.
Following Huhne’s resignation, David Cameron received a letter from 106 MPs demanding that the coalition scrap its financial support for onshore wind-energy generation.
This suggests a newfound belief among the motley crew of climate change sceptics and “nimbys” in the House of Commons that the self-styled “greenest government” may be reining back on its commitment to the environment.
Many signatories will have been emboldened to publicly challenge government policy by the chancellor’s autumn statement last year, in which he offered to help energy-intensive sectors mitigate the impact of policies aimed at reducing carbon emissions, dismantle existing environmental regulation and build more roads.
Meanwhile, DECC is operating under a financial straightjacket imposed by the Treasury, which led to its decision to pull the rug from under the feet of the solar panel industry by halving the feed-in tariff .
So, despite his assurances that DECC will not backtrack on its low-carbon objectives, Davey and his department are likely to come under increasing pressure to do just that.