The abolition of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has been condemned by former ministers as a major setback to British efforts to combat global warming.
DECC was closed in a series of sweeping changes to the government unveiled by the new Prime Minister, Theresa May, recently. Its functions, which include representing the UK at international climate talks, responsibility for meeting carbon targets and levying subsidies for green energy, have been transferred to a beefed-up business department.
According to the UK guardian, a group of international statesmen and women including Kofi Annan, Mary Robinson and Desmond Tutu issued a statement saying they regretted the decision and it failed to encourage leadership on climate change.
Many environmental groups strongly criticised the decision as downgrading action on climate only months after more than 170 countries signed the Paris climate deal in New York. The UK is under pressure to ratify the agreement, both as part of the EU and domestically.
“This is shocking news. Less than a day into the job and it appears that the new prime minister has already downgraded action to tackle climate change, one of the biggest threats we face,” said Craig Bennett, the CEO of Friends of the Earth.
Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas described the decision as deeply worrying.
“Climate change is the biggest challenge we face, and it must not be an afterthought for the government. Dealing with climate change requires a dedicated Minister at the Cabinet table. To throw it into the basement of another Whitehall department looks like a serious backwards step,” she said.
An environmental economist at the New Economics Foundation (NEF), Stephen Devlin, said the department’s abolition was “a terrible move by our new Prime Minister.”
He said it appeared to signal “a troubling de-prioritisation of climate change by this government.
“Tackling climate change is an era-defining challenge that must direct and determine what industries we develop, what transport infrastructure we construct, how we manage our land and what our diets look like. It requires a central co-ordinated strategy; if we leave it to the afterthoughts of other departments we will fail,” he said.