‘Stewardship’ challenge for new Environment Secretary
Faced with the realities of office, how will the newly appointed and apparently climate sceptic Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, actually engage with Defra stewarship? Its complex brief covers sustainable development, climate action and green growth. He brings a mixed bag to the job. As Northern Ireland Minister, at a Cabinet meeting in May he reportedly offered a three- point growth plan including ending all energy subsidies, the fast-track exploitation of shale gas and an urgent review of aviation policy. Yet as Shadow Defra Minister (2005-2007) he opposed wasteful fish discards and industrial-scale fishing. His predecessor, Caroline Spelman, faced up to the massive challenges of waste, water, forest privatisation, food supply, floods and climate change. But reading Patterson’s backstory does not point to a period of Defra-DECC ideological harmlony.
As BusinessGreen argues, green businesses and NGOs will want to establish quickly which path Paterson is on: whether he will accept requests for meetings, publicly affirm the consensus on climate science, and work to develop the positive regulatory framework needed to tackle the waste, water, and food challenges that Spelman struggled to address.
His Constituency web page describes wind energy as a “massive waste of consumers’ money.” It headlines the Astonishing Cost of Windfarms, put at £25bn. Paterson says, “£10 billion is the same amount that it would cost to build seven new nuclear power stations.” Fact check needed there.
As for a blueprint for economic recovery, Conservative Home reports (May 2012) that the Northern Ireland Secretary set out a three point action plan for economic growth during a Cabinet meeting. He called for:
- Exemption of all micro businesses from red tape, following the model Ronald Reagan pursued in the early 1980s;
- Ending of all energy subsidies and then fast-tracked exploitation of shale gas, as an unexpected and potentially huge windfall.
- Urgent review of airport policy to ensure Britain gets its full share of global trade.
The Times‘ political correspondent tweeted this afternoon: “Owen Paterson [is] sceptical on climate change – his views endorsed by Lord Lawson – make him an aggressive choice for the ‘environment’ remit”. Commentators suggest he positions on the right of the Conservative Party – a deregulator, opponent of public subsidy, and deep climate change sceptic in his powerful support for shale gas exploitation.
It is important to recall that one of his predeccessors, David Miliband, steered the 2008 Climate Change Act. Now, environmental stewardship rests between two departments. On the face of it, we are faced with a significant weakening of the green voice at the Cabinet table.