Now the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition has finally formalised its policies for the next five years, it’s worth reviewing who’s now in charge of the UK climate change and environmental policy and what that policy is.
Well the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is now run by Liberal Democrat Chris Hune, supported by Conservative ministers Greg Baker and Charles Hendry, with Conservative peer Lord Jonathan Marland managing the legislative programme in the Lords. This seems to be the main team, although it’s still to be confirmed exactly who does what.
It does, though, seem likely that Hendry will handle nuclear issues because of Chris Hune’s previous opposition. The coalition has agreed that the Lib Dems will abstain on any vote relating to plans for new nuclear reactors, allowing the Conservatives to implement their own plan for a new wave of nuclear power plants.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is run by an all-Conservative team headed by secretary of state Caroline Spelman (previously an agriculture industry lobbyist) who will also focus on climate change, biodiversity, the Environment Agency and Natural England. Jim Paice is minister for agriculture and food and Richard Benyon is parliamentary under-secretary for natural environment and fisheries. Conservative peer Lord Henley will be responsible for environmental regulation, nanotechnology, chemicals, sustainable development, waste and recycling, biofuels and climate change adaptation, which means that he is likely to be the most involved with green industry issues.
Yesterday the coalition published ‘The Coalition: our programme for government’ which sets out its proposals across a range of policy areas, including energy and climate change. The full document is here (see page 16), but among the main points (as quoted in the document) are:
• We will push for the EU to demonstrate leadership in tackling international climate change, including by supporting an increase in the EU emission reduction target to 30% by 2020.
• We will seek to increase the target for energy from renewable sources, subject to the advice of the Climate Change Committee.
• We will establish a smart grid and roll out smart meters.
• We will establish a full system of feed-in tariffs in electricity – as well as the maintenance of banded Renewables Obligation Certificates.
• We will introduce measures to promote a huge increase in energy from waste through anaerobic digestion.
• We will create a green investment bank.
• We will introduce measures to encourage marine energy.
• We will cancel the third runway at Heathrow.
• Through our ‘Green Deal’, we will encourage home energy efficiency improvements paid for by savings from energy bills. We will also take measures to improve energy efficiency in businesses and public sector buildings. We will reduce central government carbon emissions by 10% within 12 months.
• We will give an Annual Energy Statement to Parliament to set strategic energy policy and guide investment.
• We will deliver an offshore electricity grid in order to support the development of a new generation of offshore wind power.
• As part of the creation of a green investment bank, we will create green financial products to provide individuals with opportunities to invest in the infrastructure needed to support the new green economy.
• We will work towards an ambitious global climate deal that will limit emissions and explore the creation of new international sources of funding for the purpose of climate change adaptation and mitigation.
All of the policy items detailed above have the potential to impact the UK green ICT market in some way. Pushing for an increase in the EU emissions reduction targets will increase pressure on emissions reductions in the UK. The smart grid support clears the way for current developments and the offshore electricity grid will add to the smart grid flexibility and potential.
My reservation is around the reduction of central government carbon emissions by another 10% within 12 months. Clearly this is a commendable target, there is no harm in challenging the public sector to further achievements and it should be setting an example to the private sector (although it would be a lot better if the target also included local government). The problem is that the additional reduction is also likely to be applied to ICT, which should be seen as a green enabler for the rest of the organisation.
To be fair, ICT’s enabling role has started to be recognised in the public sector, but as yet emissions reductions do seem to be targeted across the board, i.e. including ICT. In any case, a target for carbon neutrality by 2012 is already in place, which only seems achievable by buying carbon offsets. This additional, unplanned reduction will penalise departments that have already made significant moves towards previous targets and is likely to prevent ICT from making the contribution that it could potentially make.
Yes, the public sector should be doing more, but it needs realistic planning and a recognition of ICT’s on-going role. But with the new government also planning to take a hard look at large-scale ICT deals (for which read the NHS’ failing National Programme for IT) it’s unclear whether green ICT will get the recognition it deserves.
We’ll keep you posted.