New British Environment Secretary Faces Climate, Nuclear Waste Issues

LONDON, UK, June 28, 2007 (ENS) - The United Kingdom has a new environment secretary in the newly formed government of Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The new Prime Minister took office on Wednesday as former Prime Minister Tony Blair resigned the post he has held for the past 10 years. Issues of climate change and radioactive waste disposal are front and center in the UK today.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, fourth from left, meets with his new cabinet for the first time today. (Photo courtesy Office of the Prime Minister)

Prime Minister Brown has held his first Cabinet meeting this afternoon, following appointments made earlier today.

He appointed Member of Parliament Hilary Benn to be secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, replacing MP David Miliband, who now joins the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as foreign secretary.

Benn has been secretary of state for international development since 2003. In Parliament, he has represented the West Yorkshire constituency of Leeds Central since 1999.

Benn is a fourth generation MP as the second son of former Labour Cabinet Minister Tony Benn and educator Caroline Benn.

Between May 2002 and May 2003, Hilary Benn was the Home Office minister for prisons and probation. He was previously the Parliamentary under secretary of state at the Department for International Development.

He has also been minister of state for international development and Tony Blair's G8 Africa personal representative.

Benn will head The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, DEFRA, which is now dealing with issues of climate change and disposal of Britain's nuclear waste.

Hilary Benn is Britain's new Secretary of State for
Environment (Photo courtesy Hilary Benn)

Friends of the Earth Director Tony Juniper said, "We welcome Hilary Benn to his new role - his challenge is to make sure we get a strong Climate Change Bill which includes a commitment to reduce the UK's carbon emissions by at least three percent per year. David Miliband has created considerable momentum in this direction and now it is up to Hilary Benn to finish the job. In this he has a chance to make history."

"We congratulate David Miliband on the progress he made on climate change during his brief time at the environment deparment, especially his achievements in bringing forward the Climate Change Bill," Juniper said. "In his new role as Foreign Secretary he must keep climate change on the international agenda."

The United Nations climate conference set for Indonesia in November is expected to be the forum that maps out a global agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions when the current Kyoto Protocol, to which Britain is a Party, expires in 2012.

Juniper said his group would like to see the present and past environment secretaries form "a strong partnership to ensure that Britain continues to play a pivotal role in the up-coming international climate change negotiations."

Robin Oakley of Greenpeace said, "Mr. Benn's job is now one of the most important in government. We'll judge him not on his reputation but on what he does in the coming months and years to fight climate change, the greatest issue of our times. He and Gordon Brown have a big test coming up, when they'll be asked to decide on whether Britain builds new coal-fired power stations. On that issue alone we'll soon know if hes the real deal."

At home, the Carbon Reduction Commitment, announced in the Energy White Paper in May, is a mandatory cap and trade scheme that will cap emissions from up to 5,000 large business and public sector organizations, which are collectively responsible for around 14 million metric tons of carbon each year.

The government is consulting with the public on the detailed implementation of this policy, which will cover large retailers, supermarkets, hotel chains, universities and central government departments.

Public comments are welcome on issues such as the type of auction; definition of an organization; rules to exempt small sources of emissions; the approach to monitoring, reporting and auditing results; and penalties for failure to comply.

Organizations are expected to save money through lower energy bills as a result of improved energy efficiency.

This policy combined with the implementation of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive will deliver emissions reductions of 1.2 million metric tons of carbon a year by 2020, DEFRA says.

The government intends to bring the Carbon Reduction Commitment into force in 2010, beginning with a three year introductory phase, during which allowances will be sold at a fixed price.

More details on the Carbon Reduction Commitment consultation, which will run until October 9, can be found at: www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/carbon-reduc/

DEFRA is also involved in administering the long-term disposal of highly radioactive waste, and proposals for the way in which a disposal site will be chosen were published for public consultation earlier this week.

The consultation is seeking views on the technical aspects of designing and delivering a disposal facility for higher-activity radioactive waste, and on the process and criteria to be used in deciding where the future facility should be located.

Based on the recommendation of the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management, the government announced last October that geological disposal, coupled with safe and secure interim storage, is the way forward for the long-term management of the UKs highly radioactive wastes.

The government will rely on communities that volunteer to host the high-technology, multi-billion pound facility that is expected to bring investment and jobs whereever it is eventually sited.

This nuclear consultation will run until November 2. More information is available at: www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/radwaste-framework/

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.