Energy policy

Access to energy is now crucial for India’s continued development. But the scale of the challenge and the changes required could alter the whole structure of governance and the way in which the Indian economy works over the next few years.

A seminar held at Kings College London earlier this week looked at the issues – investment, trade, energy security and the impact of energy on the balance between the urban and the rural communities. We produced more questions than answers but even the questions are instructive. 

A number of well-sourced reports over the past two days suggest that, as predicted, we are on the edge of a deal for the construction of new nuclear power stations in the UK.

The champagne corks however are not quite popping either in Whitehall or in Paris. 

What does 2013 hold for the UK’s Climate Change Committee? This worthy body was established in 2009 and is responsible for advising the government on emissions targets and reporting to parliament on the progress being made on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The remit sounds reasonable but the reality is that the committee has been written off in Whitehall. The committee’s advice is blatantly ignored and its chief executive, despite his obvious knowledge and capability, has been dismissed by no less than the prime minister as too inexperienced and unqualified to be appointed as permanent secretary of the energy department. For a serious public servant that is pretty damning. 

Francis Maude faces a re-assertion of civil service authority. Getty Images

By the end of the week the Department for Energy and Climate Change should have a new permanent secretary. The interviews are on Thursday and the panel, now shorn of inconvenient outsiders such as Lord Stern, will pick a civil servant who will be confirmed immediately.

That might sound bad, but the candidate most likely to be selected is surprisingly strong and a symbol of how seriously the senior civil service takes the department’s problems.

The appointment is a re-assertion of civil service authority and a slap in the face for Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude who wanted to bring in a businessman. Mr Maude and Mr Cameron still owe an apology to David Kennedy, the head of the climate change committee who was selected and then summarily deselected, but the most he is likely to get is a consolatory MBE. (I will elaborate on the future of the committee next week.) 

First Minister Alex Salmond, left, favours growth of wind power. Getty Images

The Treasury does not agree with the level of subsidies being offered but has been forced partially to back down because of the political imperative of keeping the coalition together. The secretary of state Ed Davey, a Liberal Democrat, believes in setting medium-term targets on emissions but has been forced to back down and to accept a time-limited policy, which will be reviewed again after the next election. The result is that no one believes the policy being published this week is the right answer, or that it will endure beyond 2015.