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Queen’s Speech: Environmental Issues Under the Spotlight?

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The new government’s plans for the year ahead were revealed on the 27th May 2015 in the Queen’s Speech to Parliament.  The Queen’s Speech, which is the centrepiece of the State Opening of Parliament, provides a list of laws that the government hopes to get approved by Parliament over the coming year.

This year there have been a number of very topical, and somewhat controversial, laws that were announced within the speech, ranging from the EU Referendum Bill and Immigration Bill, to the British Bill on Rights and Housing Bill.  Amongst these key pieces of legislation, the new Energy Bill also received attention.

The Queen’s speech, in the presence of MPs, peers and other dignitaries in the House of Lords, made mention of the measures that will be introduced to “increase energy security” and ensure there will be “affordable energy for businesses and families”, through the new Energy Bill.  In her speech, the Queen also stated that the new Tory government "will seek effective global collaboration to sustain economic recovery and to combat climate change, including at the climate change conference in Paris later this year."

The Conservatives' new Energy Bill aims to better regulate energy supply and affordability.  The Bill proposes to formally establish the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) as an independent regulator that will be "charged with the asset stewardship and regulation of domestic oil and gas recovery".

The Energy Bill also includes a clause to provide consenting power to local authorities for all onshore wind applications, although the impacts of this are considered to be fairly negligible given that local authorities already have these powers for wind farms below 50MW.  There are only two operational wind farms in the England with more than 50MW capacity.

On climate change, the Queen also made reference to a “global deal” that is on its way to deliver the united scale of action that is required, as well as stating that the most cost-effective and competitive way to address climate change is “an international, legally binding, rules based agreement covering every country.”

However, the issue of energy efficiency was not addressed and arguably this remains one of the most fundamental and cost-effective way for addressing UK emission reduction.  This has been seen by many as a missed opportunity for the new government to set out how they will reduce emissions from our built environment.

Environmental and sustainability professionals have also expressed disappointment that the Queen’s Speech was not used as an opportunity for the government to affirm the increasing importance of the low carbon economy in the UK or to make a clear commitment to support its continued growth.

The UK’s low carbon and resource efficiency sectors have grown significantly in recent years, but its future growth is very much dependent on strong government support and commitment.  Such commitment was not demonstrated in the opening of the new Parliament, which only builds on existing concerns on how the UK can fully transition towards a more sustainable economy. 

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