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Interview: Greg Barker on the challenge of climate change

Tony Grew November 12, 2008

Last month’s government reshuffle focused mainly on the return of Lord Mandelson to the fold, but there was another highly significant appointment.

Gordon Brown created the Energy and Climate Change department to take over the energy duties of the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and the climate change responsibilities of the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Ed Miliband is the first Secretary of State.

Many Westminster watchers assumed that Greg Barker be promoted by David Cameron last month to Shadow Cabinet.

In fact Greg Clark became the new Shadow Secretary of State, while Mr Barker retained his climate change brief.

He was named as one of the most influential gay people in British politics by last year. What is your view on the creation of the new department for climate change?

Greg Barker: It is a welcome move, because you cannot fix climate change without tackling energy. It has to be good news that energy and climate change, instead of being adversaries across the Cabinet table. There will instead be joined up government. It is positive move.

However, just rearranging the deckchairs in Whitehall, changing stationery and signposts does not actually achieve anything at all. Unless there is real ambitous committment to deliver new policies, we are simply not going to make the changes that we need to. The jury is still very much out.

Can you elaborate on the conflict between energy and climate change?

The old energy lobby, to which the Labour party are so wedded, is all about coal. Old coal has to be consigned to the past.

The modern Conservative party under David Cameron is committed to a future for new coal, provided that it is only burnt with carbon capture technology, which is still unproven on a large scale.

What we must do in this country is lead the world in making carbon capture and storage technology commercially viable. Potentially that could open up huge opportunities for the UK.

The government are dithering, dragging their feet and not committing the resources they should be to what is not just a necessity for climate change but a huge economic opportunity.

Was this idea discussed by the Tories before the government announced the new department?

Certainly we had been calling for greater coherence between climate change policy and energy and we have been severe critics of the lack of performance on climate change. This is another late response by Gordon Brown to the agenda set by David Cameron.

It was not something that we had announced, but it was very much in our train of thinking. We will be coming forward with more details of our climate change strategy in early 2009.

The economic meltdown has strengthened the Prime Minister – are the Tories worried?

At a time of acute crisis people are very cautious. However, there is not going to be a general election tomorrow. I think that as soon as the immediate crisis starts to settle, people will start to ask serious and searching questions. Why was the British economy worse off that others in Europe?

Gordon Brown has presided over 10 years of irresponsible fiscal government. All of the problems we are now facing grew under Gordon Brown’s watch. He is the man responsible ultimately for these problems – he is not the solution.

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