STEFAAN SIMONS, chair of IChemE’s Energy Centre, says that he hopes the creation of the UK’s new Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is a positive move for climate change.
BEIS was formed during new UK prime minister Teresa May’s government reshuffle when she took office last week. The former Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) merged with the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills to become BEIS. The new secretary of state, Greg Clark, said that his new department is “charged with delivering a comprehensive industrial strategy, leading government’s relationship with business, furthering our world-class science base, delivering affordable, clean energy and tackling climate change.”
The IChemE Energy Centre was formed to provide decision makers around the world with expert advice on energy issues. Simons, who is a chemical engineering professor and dean of the College of Engineering, Design and Physical Sciences at Brunel University London, UK, says that mitigating climate change must be a priority for governments around the world. He raises some concerns about the merger, which risks losing focus on those climate change priorities.
Simons adds, however: “The IChemE Energy Centre has been working closely with DECC, and looks forward to developing this relationship further with BEIS, by hosting a joint Low Carbon Summit on 9 September. We hope that the merging of these two departments is a positive move for climate change, and that BEIS will enable the government to develop a long term energy strategy that meets the trilemma of security of supply, affordability and, most importantly, decarbonisation.”
IChemE interim CEO Justin Blades says that the reorganisation brings both opportunities and risks.
“Bringing 'industrial strategy' to the forefront is a development that will be welcomed by chemical engineers in the UK and we look forward to working with government to stimulate new business opportunities in the areas where sustainable chemical engineering can make a real difference. However, the loss of the words 'climate change' from the department's title must not be taken as a signal that the government's focus on the most pressing issue of our times has been diminished. IChemE will ensure that climate change adaption and mitigation stays at the top of the agenda.”
The comments made by Simons and Blades echoes those made by others in the engineering sector. Paul Davies, head of policy at the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) said that the new department gives “welcome prominence” to the need for an industrial strategy, and added that IET has long been calling for consistent and long-term government policies for energy and manufacturing.
“UK manufacturing is growing at the fastest rate for a generation, so we must act now to maintain the momentum,” he said. “The big question mark is skills. Lack of skills continues to threaten all UK engineering, including the manufacturing and energy sectors, so it’s vital that in moving responsibility for the skills agenda to the Department of Education we don’t create a bigger gulf between education and industry.”
The Chemical Industries Association (CIA) also said that the recognition of the importance of industrial strategy within the new minister’s title is “hugely significant”, and a “welcome signal for businesses planning for the future.
CIA chief executive Steve Elliott said: “We have long campaigned for greater clarity and commitment from government on industrial strategy. The shape of the new government and the inclusion of energy as well as the explicit naming of industrial strategy in the Business Department’s responsibilities marks an important start. What we now need are policies that reflect this understanding.”
The creation of BEIS has not been so well received by everyone, however.
“The energy and climate change department has been broken up and put back together without the name 'climate change'. Although, some might say ‘what’s in a name’, there is a very real worry that the progress made on tackling climate change could be relegated to the bottom of the in-tray. Business, energy and industrial strategy must have green innovation and job creation at its heart,” said Greenpeace executive director, John Sauven.
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