12 may 2010

Chris Huhne expected as new energy and climate change secretary

Lib Dem home affairs spokesman tipped to take up cabinet post at head of Department of Energy and Climate Change

James Murray, BusinessGreen 12 May 2010

Liberal Democrat MP Chris Huhne is poised to be appointed as Energy and Climate Change secretary in the new government, according to reports this morning.

The BBC's Today programme said that the former Lib Dem leadership candidate will take up the reins at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and sit in the first coalition cabinet in over 50 years alongside four of his colleagues.

The move is likely to be welcomed by green business leaders and reassure those who feared that a Conservative government would bow to pressure from its backbenches and water down its commitment to tackling climate change.

It will also be welcomed by senior civil servants, some of whom privately feared that DECC would be folded into other departments as part of a post-election reshuffle.

Huhne is widely regarded as left-leaning and is seen as a big hitter within the Liberal Democrats after challenging Nick Clegg for the leadership in 2007.

He has experience of green issues having made his name as the party's environment spokesman before taking up his most recent post as home affairs spokesman.

Huhne will now have a central role in contributing to the Queens' Speech, which is expected to include a wide range of environmental proposals endorsed by both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems during the election campaign.

In particular, a new green bill is expected that will establish a new low carbon infrastructure bank and set out the legislative framework for a green home loan scheme that would offer households low interest loans to enhance the energy efficiency of their property.

Moves are similarly expected to reverse the approval for a third runway at Heathrow, accelerate plans for a high speed rail link, roll out smart grid technologies, and impose a ban on coal fired power stations that do not include carbon capture and storage technology.

In addition, more contentious policy proposals, such as Conservative plans for a floor price on carbon, will have to be resolved within the next few months.

Details are also expected to emerge today of how the Lib Dem and Conservative negotiating teams squared their opposing views on nuclear power, with Foreign Secretary William Hague telling the Today programme that the agreement between the two parties named certain areas, including nuclear power, where the Lib Dems could abstain from government measures.

Ben Caldecott, Head of UK and EU Policy at Climate Change Capital, welcomed Hughes appointment. "He has an outstanding track record in this field and we look forward to working with him on developing the policy frameworks needed to deliver low carbon investment at the scale and speed necessary," he said. "The cross party consensus on climate change and environmental action, so positively demonstrated during the election campaign and throughout coalition negotiations, must be channelled quickly into the delivery of an ambitious and clearly set-out legislative programme."

It remains to be seen whether Conservative Shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretary Greg Clark and his Lib Dem counterpart Simon Hughes are also rewarded with cabinet posts.

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