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Sceptic becomes UK Environment - but not Climate - Secretary

New Minister for Nimbys takes up portfolio

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Comment Green campaigners are aghast at the news that a fairly blunt climate-change sceptic has been appointed to the post of Environment Secretary in the latest ministerial reshuffle - but they are no doubt also somewhat consoled by the fact that in the British government this post has very little to do with matters of climate change.

The man in question, North Shropshire Tory MP Owen Paterson, may be relatively obscure to Reg readers - he was Northern Ireland secretary until now. However his positions on energy matters are well known: he is an advocate of shale gas extraction and an enemy of windfarms and the "subsidies" (actually special invisible levies added to electricity bills) which are the only reason any renewable powerplants exist.

However these matters lie completely outside his new departmental portfolio: they are handled by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, which remains in the hands of the Lib Dem Edward Davey - though he is far less Green than some of his predecessors (for instance Chris Huhne).

As head of the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Paterson - should he prove to be one of the unusual brand of minister able to bend both his civil servants and his cabinet colleagues to his will - can affect matters such as pollution, building permissions, farming practices etc. As such he can have only a relatively minor impact on the big climate/energy debate, which as one would expect is primarily a matter for the energy and climate ministry.

Paterson may well get involved in the Heathrow third-runway debate (in favour), but this isn't really a climate matter: a new European runway will probably be built no matter what happens, the only debate is about where it will be - and the serious political opposition to it being near London as opposed to Frankfurt has its roots in noise nimbyism among affluent suburb-dwellers as much as Green considerations.

Indeed this probably serves as a good indication of what the terms "environment" and "climate change" mean in UK politics. Paterson has effectively been made Minister for Nimbys. An early challenge for the new minister will be to cope with the hot political potato of badger culls.

As to background, Paterson is an Oxford-educated public schoolboy who ran an inherited leather business until entering politics in 1997. He is an advocate of biofuelled transport in a sense, being a keen horse rider. He lists "trees", "architecture" and "history" as his other interests. ®

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