The Liberal Democrats have confirmed that proposals to create a new Department for Climate Change and Natural Resources would spell the end for Defra if the party wins power in next week’s general election.
Machinery of government changes for the new department form part of the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto for the 12 December vote, however the document does not clearly spell out the party’s thinking on the future for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
When the document was launched last month, the creation of the new department – alongside cabinet-level Chief Secretary for Sustainability in the Treasury – appeared to be a partial resurrection of the Department for Energy and Climate Change, scrapped by Theresa May in 2016.
However, while DECC coexisted with the environment department from its 2008 creation until it was consigned to the history books three and a half years ago, the Liberal Democrats have indicated the ministry would now replace Defra.
Jane Dodds, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats and food and rural affairs spokesperson, clarified the party’s stance in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today programme.
Asked if the new department would be the end of the road for Defra, Dodds replied: “It would be replacing Defra, yes”.
“It’s not so much about the title of a department, but what we do,” she said.
“What we’re going to be doing is making sure that our food producers and our farmers have the right support that they need to produce food profitably for the future of this country and that we profile the needs of our rural communities as well.”
As well as bringing forward Theresa May’s net-zero carbon emissions target by five years to 2045, the Liberal Democrat general election manifesto has pledged to increase government spending on climate and environmental objectives to 5% of total expenditure within five years.
It also includes a target of requiring all new homes to meet tough low-energy targets, based on the Passivhaus standard, by 2025 and promises to invest heavily from a £130bn infrastructure fund to accelerate the transition to ultra-low emission transport.
The new chief secretary for sustainability at the Treasury would be tasked with coordinating government-wide action to make the economy sustainable, resource-efficient and zero-carbon. They would be the enforcer for a requirement that every government agency should account for its contribution towards meeting climate targets.
The manifesto also proposed the creation of a £5bn fund for flood prevention and climate adaptation that would aim to improve flood defences, and introduce high standards for flood resilience for buildings and infrastructure in flood risk areas over the course of the parliament.
The new Department for Climate Change and Natural Resources would also coordinate the planting of 60 million trees a year and introducing requirements for the greater use of sustainably harvested wood in construction.