The one thing that the old people in charge of Britain hadn't entirely fucked up for young people was that they appeared to be concerned about the rapid deterioration of the planet. But now, in a sweeping gesture that shows we mean nothing, Theresa May has abolished the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Its functions, which include representing the UK at international climate talks, holding responsibility for meeting carbon targets and levying subsidies for green energy – reasonably vital things – have just been shoved into a business department.
Ed Davey, who served as the Lib Dem sec of state at the department between 2012 and 2015, has criticised the decision, calling it a "major setback for the UK's climate change efforts". That doesn't quite cover it though. This decision boldly claims that Britain doesn't care about climate change and global warming. It matters because, as Ed Miliband tweeted, "depts shape priorities, shape outcomes". This has come just days after government advisers warned the UK is extremely unprepared for the impact of climate change. We called up Friends of the Earth's Chief Executive Craig Bennett to find out why this decision was made, why it matters and what it means for our future.
VICE: Hi Craig. We've always been alright at acknowledging the danger of climate change in this country.
Craig Bennett: It's incredibly sad because Britain has been a leader in climate change. The original idea for creating this type of department was an idea that was generated first in Britain and has been copied by governments around the world in almost 100 countries. It's yet another case for Britain coming up with a great idea and being the first at something then throwing it away just as the world picks up. Time and again we see Britain being a leader then getting caught in toxic politics, going back on itself and therefore losing the leadership it once had.
So why does it matter that the department is gone?
It hugely matters, especially for younger generations. There's so much evidence and we've been told by politicians from all sides of the debate that climate change is one of the biggest problems humanity faces over the years ahead. And it's an urgent crisis that requires more focused attention. It's not just another item to add to the shopping list, things to get done. Governments absolutely have to deal with it now. You need focused departments to do that. That's why we have the Department for Education, that's why we have the Department for Health, Department for Defence. Climate change put in another department and dealt with is wholly wrong and seems to reveal thinking going back to the 1970s. We've got that great expertise so there's a real concern it'll be lost, or at the very least diluted, now in a situation where we don't have state focus on thinking about climate change. Climate change needs the full attention of cabinet and the secretary of state to deliver this. What do you think has motivated this decision?
Well I think that we have to recognise that there's a whole package of ideology at play. There's a neo-liberal, neo-conservative ideology that was wholly wrapped up in the Brexit ideology, the fear in the unknown, turning our back on the world. These are the same people that argued against immigration, so-called foreign aid, they argue half the time climate change isn't happening or doesn't matter even if it does. They narrowly won this referendum which I think was a poor exercise in democracy rather than a good exercise in democracy, mainly because the Leave campaign was based on a pack of lies from top to bottom. So it's all part of this ideology. Clearly Theresa May has taken this decision to reward the Brexiteers in a number of ways. The first is to put them in top positions and another is to sweep away climate change off the top table. In Greg Clark, we at least have a Secretary of State who will have responsibility who hasn't got a bad track record on this. He's a sensible man and he's demonstrated in the past that he thinks climate change is important and Theresa May herself has said some very welcome things about climate change in the past. But I come back to this simple analogy. If you got rid of the Department of Education and you got rid of the Department of Health and you folded it into another department, would anyone believe that that's not a reprioritisation of those issues? No. So I don't believe that this somehow won't make a difference. With the department gone, what exactly is left in the country in terms of climate change funding or expertise? Is there anything that can try and pick up the pieces and fill the gaps left?
We still have the Climate Change Act, thank goodness. It wasn't long ago that Theresa May was asserting about how that was an incredible important piece of information and had cross-party support. We've still got the independent committee on climate change which gives very advice on the level of reductions in carbon emissions. And we can hope that perhaps the one theoretical possibility is that because climate change will be in the same department as industrial strategy, there's a hope they might put a strategy in place to take Britain to a zero carbon economy. That's what's needed. But let's be honest, we have a government that seems to be getting ready to approve a brand new runway. We have a government that remains committed to fracking. Even brand new open cast coal mines. All the signs on the ground are that this is a government that is being prepared to force some of the most dirty, polluted industries on local communities that don't want them and against what needs to happen to tackle climate change. So much for taking back control.
The people who will deal with this, again, are the younger population.
Exactly. This is about pushing dirty, polluted industries with zero regard for the fortunes of future generations and for young people. The people that will suffer the most from this are the youngest people in our society, the majority of who feel shafted by the EU Referendum outcome and shafted by plenty of other things, like debt and loss of opportunity that's been brought about by older generations and now they also feel that they've been shafted by an older generation that just doesn't seem to care about climate change which will affect their lives and family. Young people should be furious about this. It's no wonder they feel let down by this complete disregard for their future.
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