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Paul Sanderson's Friday Blog

Date: 4/10/2013 | Author: Paul Sanderson

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Would we benefit from a new Environment Secretary?

This week's Conservative Party conference saw some dispiriting comments, or even lack of valuable comments, from Environment Secretary Owen Paterson.

Firstly, at a fringe meeting, he was quoted as saying that climate change might bring some benefits for the UK. It might, but it might also bring a lot of problems such as flooding in lowland areas, extreme weather and there is evidence that wildlife is struggling to adapt to the small levels of climate change we have already experienced in the UK. In terms of Owen Paterson's beloved agriculture, this damage to biodiversity could be very damaging.

But for me, the main issue was the almost lack of awareness in his speech that the environment meant anything other than the rural economy. Granted, there was a brief mention of biodegradeable plastic bags and a potential charge for plastic bags, but otherwise his speech focused entirely on agriculture and rural issues. These are very, very important in their own right, but that does not mean he should exclude the urban environment, or my particular interest of resource efficiency.

I get the impression that Owen Paterson doesn't really care about either urban issues or resource efficiency but he clearly loves agriculture. 

There are Conservative politicians who clearly get the environmental issues, such as Zac Goldsmith, Lord Deben or Laura Sandys who I interviewed recently (see here) and once David Cameron also appeared to be committed to environmental issues. I'm not suggesting Owen Paterson should be replaced by the first three on the list, but maybe we need an Environment Secretary that can provide more guidance and support to everyone interested in resource efficiency and the circular economy.

Or maybe we need a return to the past where Defra was once MAFF and was responsible for agriculture, food and fisheries which would seem to fit Owen Paterson's interests much better.

So where should responsibility for resource efficiency and the circular economy fit? There is an argument for it to be part of DECC because of the natural fit in terms of energy and climate change with resource efficiency.

But my preference would be that BIS should be the department responsible for our sector. It is businesses that will drive the change from a linear to a circular economy and it makes sense for BIS to set this direction. Or maybe with Michael Fallon working across both BIS and DECC he could take on responsibility for resource efficiency? Or maybe a cross-Government minister of resource efficiency could be appointed to ensure the Government is fully on-board in terms of economic transformation? Or maybe an Office for Resource Efficiency should be created?

There are lots of options and none are exactly perfect, but all options seem better than an Environment Secretary that doesn't really care about us. 

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