Johnson, who is heading to Brussels for a crunch EU summit on the newly agreed Brexit deal, is due to announce today that he will chair the committee. It will bring “together my ministers to galvanise action to tackle the great environmental challenges we face”, according to a written statement published by Downing Street.
Number 10 has signalled the committee will have broad responsibilities for protecting the environment, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving air quality.
It will involve the foreign secretary, chancellor, chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, business secretary, environment secretary, transport secretary, international development secretary and housing secretary.
The committee will coordinate the UK’s strategy to meet its legally-binding target to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, as well as prepare for the UK’s presidency of COP26, the UN climate summit, in November 2020.
Johnson said he recognised that British voters “are passionate about protecting the planet”, noting that the government needs to “continue building on the excellent progress” it has made to tackle climate change.
The Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the government’s independent climate advisor, announced this morning that it will publish its recommendation for the sixth carbon budget in September 2020. The budget will cover the period between 2033-2037.
CCC chair Lord Deben recommended that the Treasury develop in its net-zero review a plan for funding decarbonisation and examine how businesses, households and the government share the costs.
In a letter to the CCC published yesterday, business secretary Andrea Leadsom had referred to “potentially including a new cabinet sub-committee on climate change”. She said this morning that she was “delighted” by Downing Street’s announcement.
However, shadow business secretary Rebecca Long Bailey denounced Johnson, saying “there is possibly no one more ill-suited to this role” and criticising the Conservative government for undermining the UK’s solar and onshore wind industries.
Friends of the Earth chief executive Craig Bennett also expressed scepticism over the announcement. “We need urgent action not just warm words,” he said.
“This means scrapping plans for a third runway at Heathrow, halting the multi-billion pound road-building programme and abandoning support for fossil fuel development at home and abroad,” Bennett added.
German chancellor Angela Merkel set up a similar ‘climate cabinet’ earlier this year that has sought to draw up a strategy for reaching the country’s 2030 climate goals and approved plans to phase out coal power by 2038.
Joss Garman, a director at the European Climate Foundation, likewise noted that former US president Barack Obama “had a version of this approach” that “worked well at getting his laggard departments to step up” on climate action.
See Lord Deben’s letter to the Treasury here.