Zero on zero from Coffey


Therese Coffey lost her audience at the NFU conference in February – but does her attitude raise a bigger red flag, asks Andrew Livingston

Dr Therese Coffey, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The UK government must not be allowed to blame its lack of action on the climate crisis on things like rotating cabinet members, Prime Ministers and every business’s favourite scapegoat – COVID.
Back in 2019, with Theresa May at the helm – however many PMs ago that was – reaching carbon neutral by 2050 was made a legal requirement, with the passing of the Climate Change Act. 
By 2050, any carbon we release into the atmosphere from the UK must be balanced with carbon-capture, through things like tree planting and the use of new carbon-cutting technologies.
This was a good plan. The UK was at the forefront of action on climate change and looked proactive.
Well done government.
Last July, however, the High Court ruled that the action the government had taken toward net zero was insufficient and that the government was in breach of its own law.
Greg Hands, the then Minister of State for Business, Energy and Clean Growth, approved the government’s actions, despite them not actually meeting the legal requirement.
For failing at the first hurdle, the High Court imposed harsher, wider and more frequent hurdles for the government to leap to ensure that efficient action is being taken and that the plans are more than simply rhetoric. Just over seven months later, The Observer acquired a leaked document showing that the government was falling far short of its target.
Best (worst) of all for the constantly downtrodden farmers is that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is furthest from the hurdle, with its Secretary of State Therese Coffey looking likely to knock herself out on the approach.
The leaked documents, which were sent from DEFRA officials to senior Whitehall staff, show that Coffey’s department is 24 per cent short of its official target.
Therese Coffey has managed the unthinkable; to look more incompetent than her predecessors.

Grumpy and rude
At the NFU Conference last month, Coffey was booed during her speech. She continued to project the air of someone who couldn’t care less.
As George Hosford – who was at the conference – commented in his BV column last month (Red Twins, ELMS and beavers, BV Mar 23), Coffey spent the majority of her time during a Q&A with the NFU members yawning, looking at her watch and reminding them that she had a train to catch. Coffey spent the majority of her time during a Q&A with the NFU members yawning, looking at her watch and reminding them that she had a train to catch.
In fact, George described her as grumpy and rude.
Bridges are being burned. You can be sure that NFU members took careful note of her attitude.
If by some miracle she does set a plan for net zero by the deadline, she would do well to remember who will be out in the fields, carrying out her plan.
I can personally dislike Coffey, but I can’t blame her solely for her department’s inaction on climate change. Since May’s Climate Change Act in 2019, DEFRA has been playing pass-the-parcel from one minister to the next. Only there are no hidden presents in this game. The music has stopped and Coffey is left holding the box.
This will blow up in her face, but unfortunately it’s the environment that will feel the lasting damage.

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