If there is ever a Hollywood film to be made about climate and energy legislation, the enactment of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) will provide as good of a script as there will ever be. Typically mundane, the passing of the largest climate bill in U.S. history featured many twists and turns, ups and downs, and grand finale speeches about saving the world. The process features the transformation of a climate villain, Senator Joe Manchin, who infamously shot the text of a cap-and-trade bill in a political ad in 2010, into an unlikely climate hero who resurrected the legislation that he killed just a few weeks ago. The bill’s authors employed clever branding – the Inflation Reduction Act – to make the bill more palatable to not only climate activists but also fiscal hawks and the public concerned with rising prices. The drama had been omnipresent until the very end – just when all the hope of the Democratic Party to deliver on a President Biden’s signature campaign promise was lost; a compromise struck between the villain-turned-hero and the Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer saved the day.
One of the more challenging aspects of the net zero agenda is how to decarbonise heavy industry. Industries such as metals (including iron and steel), minerals, chemicals, food and drink, paper and pulp, ceramics, glass and oil refineries account for about 16% of UK territorial emissions, both from energy use and from carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases produced directly from industrial processes, such as calcination in the production of cement. Industry is commonly seen as a ‘hard to abate’ sector of the economy. A lot of industry is also exposed to international competition, so unless there is support from government there is a risk that it will close down and relocate, rather than actually cut emissions.
What does today’s restructuring of government departments mean for climate policy? Badged as being about making government deliver, the Prime Minster announced a relatively major reorganisation, with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) being broken up, a new Department for Energy Security and Net Zero being created and business going to international trade to form a new Business and Trade Department. Meanwhile the innovation parts of BEIS will be merged with digital in a new science, innovation and technology department.
Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is often promoted as a technology that will square circles. One of those circles, in the United Kingdom, is the political need to “level up” the industrial left-behind areas of the north (the so-called ‘red wall’ seats) while also pushing towards a “net zero” economy by 2050.