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Government to save the planet in its spare time

July 19, 2016

 

As a master of understatement observed on the box last night, it’s been an interesting couple of weeks.

 

A new prime minister, a new government plus what appears to be a new set of priorities – and not all of them directed at Brexit either.

 

It was a fraught business that saw Boris eventually installed (or impaled) at the Foreign Office but it’s the arbitrary disbandment of the Department of Energy and Climate Change that has got a bunch of people steamed up.

 

Twitchy environmentalists can recall how when confronted by a looming energy crisis and spiralling fuel costs three years ago (remember that?), David Cameron was reported to have told his officials to “get rid of all the green crap” – meaning, dump the government’s expensive environmental agenda.

 

Officials later insisted that the substance of his instruction had been lost in translation but the renewable energy sector thereafter went onto minimum rations compared to the subsidies offered for fossil fuels.

 

It took a lot of effort by ministers, including a few handstands at the recent Paris Summit to reclaim the environmental high ground.

 

Last month, former Energy and Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd revealed that the UK would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 57 per cent by 2030, prompting Conservative spinners to tentatively suggest that “blue was becoming the new green”.

 

The new revised reality however is that incoming PM Theresa May is far less inclined towards safeguarding the planet, or at least spending money on it.

 

Having decided that climate change should be denied stand-alone Whitehall status, she has lumped its responsibilities with various other functions held by a newly created Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

 

Downgrading is bad enough but the green lobby is even less impressed by a departmental brief of pursuing a progressive decarbonisation schedule that has to be juggled with “protecting consumer interests over energy costs”.

 

All this is happening as Westminster debates how the Wales Bill will shift the obligation for approving planning for all onshore wind farms and offshore projects up to 350MW onto the Welsh government. This will encompass the Swansea Tidal Lagoon.

 

Certain MPs who still don’t quite grasp the practical aspects of devolution are convinced that their unsophisticated Assembly counterparts will either smother rural Wales in wind turbines or else mothball vitally important energy infrastructure projects to please local voters. Either way, they argue, the outcome would be economically damaging for Welsh business prospects.

  

Cardiff Bay sees planning powers as an effective means of promoting energy-efficient building design and the like. I’m sure the same rational approach will apply to the proposed wider range of powers – even if the Senedd does now include several members with a distinctly unreconstructed view of climate change phenomena.

 

So far, a tsunami of other news events means Whitehall’s apparent shift away from environmental commitments has not received the level of press and political attention it would normally attract.

 

Parliament goes into recess after tomorrow and won’t reconvene until 5th September. I suspect Mrs May thinks most opposition MPs will have other priorities in mind on their return. She’s probably right.

 

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Region needs more than rhetoric

 

Sitting down at the UWTSD Honorary Fellows dinner last week, I was half-expecting the usual stuff about achievement and honours gained during the academic year.

 

Not a bit of it. The message from the top table was an uncompromising warning about the future.

 

The subject was about the need for real investment, both financial and in people. The focus was upon future challenges and how the university and surrounding community are connected by more than just backsides on lecture hall seats.

 

The speech evoked memories of the pragmatic ethos drilled into me during the days of the West Glamorgan Institute of Higher Education and from which, against all expectations, I eventually somehow came away with a patch-work degree equivalent.

 

We can talk about making the right connections and linking the so-called knowledge economy with enterprise, but as was said on the night, a point has been reached where the region needs more than rhetoric.

 

The people who have been charged with making a difference need to step up, and soon.

 

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Missing out

 

Here we go again. It’s time to don the green wellies, shrug on the Barbour shirt and fuel up the 4x4 (I wish). Sorry but I won’t be at the Royal Welsh this year – but don’t let me stop you.  

 

For one week of the year, Wales remembers that, among other things, we are also a farming nation where people are still out-numbered by sheep and fence-posts.

 

Yet I will have to forego the annual exodus to Builth, a venue selected not so much for a special affinity with the farming community as that it’s equally difficult to reach from anywhere.

 

I will waive the chance to buy venison burgers at twice the normal cost or choose from a selection of strangely coloured and potentially lethal cheeses.

 

I shall have to stay here are watch whoever holds the current rural affairs ministerial brief make supportive noises about the farming industry and listen to broadcasters enthusing over exotic breeds while pretending the names aren’t written down for them.

 

Ah well, maybe next year.

 

 

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