Science & Environment

Rudd's 'green light' as Climate Secretary

Amber Rudd Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Ms Rudd acknowledges uncertainties, but says the risks from climate change necessitate precaution

Green groups and low-carbon firms have welcomed the appointment of Amber Rudd as the new head of the energy and climate department, Decc.

Many will be sighing with relief that David Cameron did not choose one of the more climate-sceptic candidates at his disposal.

Ms Rudd is convinced of the threat of manmade climate change. She acknowledges uncertainties in the science, but says the risks are so huge that precaution is essential.

When confronted by sceptical colleagues on the right of the Conservative Party she quotes Mrs Thatcher, who described climate change as an experiment with the planet itself.

Ms Rudd will lead the UK in negotiations towards the over-arching climate treaty due in Paris in December but if that task is daunting, her job at home looks even more so.

Choke hold?

The Conservatives hope to bring down energy bills but their manifesto promises to scrap subsidies for onshore wind – the cheapest readily-available form of green energy. This could push bills up.

The wind industry believes it will be cost-competitive with a few years more subsidy. Does Ms Rudd agree with choking off funding?

The large-scale solar industry also says it needs support for a few more years before competing with fossil fuels in the UK. But its funding has been cut because “the money ran out”. Will Ms Rudd find extra funds to get the industry on its feet?

The Conservatives are keen on nuclear – but Ms Rudd will need to persuade investors that it is worth their while funding nuclear power stations, whilst also avoiding EU conflicts over subsidies.

So where will the energy be found? The fossil fuel advocacy group The Global Warming Policy Forum described Ms Rudd as pro-shale gas – and trumpeted: "Tory Majority Means Full Speed Ahead For UK Shale Revolution."

Yet only last week Mr Cameron promised people in Blackpool there would be no dash for fracking unless proper safeguards were in place - and fracking activities have faced local opposition where they have been proposed.

Energy solutions

The other key issue for Ms Rudd is energy efficiency – the Cinderella of the energy world. The UK still has many of the worst-insulated homes in Europe and the former Conservative minister Greg Barker admitted that the government’s Green Deal insulation scheme failed (he blamed the Bix Six energy firms).

Insulation is a good value energy solution which creates huge numbers of jobs. It also disproportionately benefits the poor. Energy experts will be pressing Ms Rudd to persuade the Treasury to make it a priority for the government’s infrastructure spending programme.

Finally, there is the question of the UK’s trajectory on CO2 cuts. Mr Cameron joined a three-way party leaders' pledge in February to abide by the Climate Change Act (which some of his back-benchers want scrapped).

Yet he has declined to set a target for decarbonising the UK electricity industry and scrapping old coal-fired power stations - a necessary step if the government is to stick with the timetable laid down by the Climate Change Committee under the Climate Change Act. It’s another conundrum for Ms Rudd.

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