The Death of DECC: What's in a Name?

17/07/2016 22:51 BST | Updated 18/07/2017 10:12 BST
TanawatPontchour via Getty Images

DECC is dead. All kneel to BEIS.

Theresa May's dismantling of the department of energy and climate change (DECC) can be viewed either as a removal of climate change as a frontline government priority at a critical post Paris COP21 stage, or else a bold and positive statement that the importance of addressing climate change has become so well integrated into the structure of modern government across all departments, that a specific department of climate change has become superfluous.

Let's look at the evidence:

Theresa May's voting record on climate and energy

• 2008: voted yes for the climate change bill.

• 2012: absent for all votes on the Enterprise Regulatory Reform Bill and Energy bill.

• 2013: voted against setting a target carbon dioxide emission per unit of energy produced.

• 2016: voted against the energy industry requiring a carbon capture & storage strategy.

• 2016: voted against a UK decarbonisation target to be reviewed annually.

This record clearly demonstrates Theresa May does not wish to regulate industrial emissions, nor to integrate carbon reduction strategies into industry. What is shocking is the amount of times she has been absent on votes for energy and climate, which can either be ascribed to climate ambivalence, scepticism or negligence. Voting records are important, as they transcend short term media spin or political rhetoric. Theresa May's voting record is certainly evidence that climate has been dropped from frontline politics rather than synthesised into government policy core.

Birth of the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS)

Business. Energy. Industry. None of these have climate change as their prime interest. Their driving factor is profit. This is not being critical of them for having profit as their central objective, it is an obvious truth and would be concerning and damaging to the national economy were it otherwise. Addressing climate change usually only enters the equations of business and industry when enforced by regulation (often EU regulation). So the destruction of DECC and the formation of BEIS is an unsubtle proclamation that money rules the roost, and that the pursuers of money need not be concerned with emissions and regulation. Climate change is off the cards. Titular linguistics reflecting political action.

The appointment of Andrea Leadsom as environment minister

Placing a person fundamentally opposed to climate change regulation in charge of the environment is another telling move. Placing the wolves in charge of the flock. Some may claim the removal of DECC simply places the responsibility of climate change in the hands of the environment minister, but again, let's look at her voting record:

• 2012: voted against requiring the UK Green Investment bank to reduce carbon emissions.

• 2013: voted against setting a target carbon dioxide emission per unit of energy produced.

• 2013: voted against applying carbon dioxide emission standards to power stations.

• 2016: voted against the energy industry requiring a carbon capture & storage strategy.

• 2016: voted against a decarbonisation target to be reviewed annually.

• 2016: voted against reducing the carbon dioxide emission rate of new homes.

This is not the voting record of a person who places environmental change as one of her top concerns. Andrea Leadsom is of course also infamous for asking whether climate change is real when starting her job, which is like a new director of the UK Space Agency coming in and asking "so, this gravity theory, do we believe in it?"

So the evidence says....

The death of DECC is not simply a linguistic destruction. We now have an (unelected) government leadership that dismisses the need for a carbon reduction strategy and is consistently opposed to climate regulation measures on business and industry.

Does it really matter?

I am a scientist, specialising in geochemistry and how the crust of planets interact with atmospheres through geological time. I am not a member of Greenpeace, not a green warrior, nor a hippie. Climate change is the greatest threat our species currently faces. It is not hypothetical, as the storms, flooding and droughts testify. The data is unequivocal and clear that change is happening, and our world is getting warmer as a whole. Geologically this is happening incredibly quickly. We are in the Anthropocene. There is also a public misunderstanding in the assumption that climate change will happen in a linear predictable steady fashion, and talk of tipping points and non-linear dynamics are rarely heard in the halls of power or the press. The near future will be a very grim and desperate place unless there is concrete, tangible action on climate change.

Yet I am also pro-business and industry. An economy needs to function, and ideally flourish. Industry is vital. Transitions to 'clean' economies will be staggered, fraught with difficulties and dilemmas, but must be invested in. Whichever nation leads in the clean energy revolution will become the dominant geopolitical power. Currently China is putting the world to shame in this respect. Even for small nations, to be able to move away from reliance on third party traditional energy sources is to create considerable political freedom in a time of global uncertainty.

We need to learn from the pilot experiments occurring in the United States and Iceland on how to create net zero emission power stations. We need to have a strong carbon capture, storage and utilisation strategy. We need to give the problem of climate change its own ministerial department and charge it with the responsibility of flooded homes, heat waves, rising sea levels, city pollution, industrial change and advancement. We need to be ashamed of Theresa May's reckless elimination of DECC, and challenge it at every level. Her climate stance is short sighted, and in the long run will cost far more than it saves.

Our economy, our homes, our industry, our children's future depend on robust climate strategies.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change was much more than just a name.

Adrienne Macartney runs the public engagement project 'Science Hooker', and is a final year PhD student at the University of Glasgow where she studies the loss of the early atmosphere of Mars, and what lessons this loss might provide for tackling climate change.