MPs call for 'super department' on climate change

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A senior Minister should be given responsibility for leading Britain's effort to tackle the threat of global warming and made answerable to the public on the issue, MPs said today.

The Commons environmental audit committee called for urgent change following a decade of missed opportunities for the government to "rise fully" to the challenge of climate change.

It said Britain's likely failure to meet self-imposed targets to cut emissions by 20 per cent by 2010 was worrying, and warned that the country's international leadership on the issue could be undermined as a result.

It welcomed the draft Climate Change Bill, which was published in March, and the creation of the cross-Government Office of Climate Change as positive steps by the Government.

But it warned that the "confused" frameworks in Whitehall for responding to the problem of global warming undermined effective action on reducing emissions.

The MPs called for the appointment of a cross-departmental Climate Change Minister who would regularly attend Cabinet meetings to drive Government policy on the issue.

At the moment Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary, takes the lead for the Government on climate change alongside his other duties. But other aspects of responsibility for reducing carbon emissions are shared between several different Ministers.

The committee also backed the establishment of a new Whitehall body – the Climate Change and Energy secretariat, based in the Cabinet Office – to co-ordinate the fight against global warming.

And it warned of a shortage of specialist skills on the issue among civil servants, which needed to be addressed.

Tim Yeo, the committee's chairman, said: "We need someone who is responsible and answerable on this area of policy and nothing else."

He said: "The Government must ensure there is clear leadership and responsibility for the development and delivery of climate change mitigation and adaptation policies. This is particularly important given the large number of bodies involved."

The committee said the Government must develop long-term policy frameworks to make sure decisions made today did not hinder future emissions reduction.

This was particularly important in light of the Government's house building plans, it argued.

Mr Yeo said: "The UK must be equipped to meet both the challenge of a carbon-constrained world and the likely climate change impacts that will occur. Our recommendations would create a more effective framework for dealing with climate change.

"However, this framework alone will not cut emissions. That needs committed leadership by the Prime Minister and his Cabinet.

"The Government's commitment to sustainable development and climate change will be judged by actions and achievements, not speeches and targets."

The report coincides with the publication today of the Government's response to the consultation on the draft Bill. Its conclusions will form the basis of the full Bill expected to be announced in next month's Queen's Speech.

John Hutton, the Business Secretary, will also today sign an agreement committing Britain to the principle of an international carbon-trading scheme.

The scheme will also be signed by all European Union countries, several US states, Canada and New Zealand.

Mr Hutton said last night: "Britain can't tackle climate change on its own. We must bring the public, business and the international community with us by ensuring the costs are as low as possible. A global carbon market passes this test and signing this declaration sends a strong message to the next round of UN talks in Bali that we must all commit to solutions that save the planet and benefit our economies."