|The first full budget from a government claiming to be the “greenest ever” is a betrayal of our environment and our future, says Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party.
“In his determination to balance the nation’s finances, George Osborne has forgotten that living within our means is also about natural resources. This budget is an attempt to return us to the failed policies of the past – unsustainable growth based on dwindling and ever-more expensive resources.
“The Chancellor had five opportunities to deliver a budget for the future, that could have turned the growing crisis over energy resources and climate change into a catalyst for creating much-needed jobs and wealth in new energy efficiency and renewable industries.”
The Green Party, with leading environmental and conservation groups, had identified five key areas where the Chancellor could act to help tackle climate change and boost jobs and sustainable growth.
* The Green Investment Bank: this should have been the key to unlocking the £450 billion in finance for renewable energy needed in the next fifteen years. Instead, by creating a bank that cannot borrow, its impact will be limited to the original £3 billion funding.
* Carbon Floor Prices: at £30 a ton, the new levy on carbon will not be high enough to promote low-carbon energy. But it will give nuclear power companies a windfall subsidy of anything from £1.3 billion to £3 billion – paid for by the “hard-pressed families” George Osborne claims to want to help.(1)
* Transport: taxing the excess profits of North Sea oil companies is welcome; but it would have been better spent on protecting rural bus services, which are even more crucial to isolated communities and the poorest in society than the cost of fuel. Instead, by cutting fuel duty the Government is pretending that high fuel prices are temporary, rather than an inevitable consequence of dwindling supplies and unchecked demand.
* Environmental taxes: though George Osborne claims the proportion of revenue raised from green taxes will rise, the decision to postpone the rise in the Aggregates Levy and to scrap the planned rise in Air Passenger Duty will reduce revenue from environmental taxes by £160 million. It will also encourage more people to holiday abroad, hitting UK resorts.
* Zero Carbon Homes: property developers were expecting to have to contribute towards community renewable energy generation in order to offset the remainder of the emissions from new homes, which, from 2016, have to be zero carbon. In the budget, the Chancellor has changed the rules to exclude emissions from appliances, which means that supposedly zero-carbon’ homes would in fact create carbon emissions for years to come. It will also undermine many community energy schemes.(2)
In addition, the Chancellor announced a weakening in the protection for the countryside and green space with changes to the planning system, putting precious landscapes and habitats in even greater risk. Caroline said:
“In Opposition, George Osborne pledged that “If I become Chancellor, the Treasury will become a green ally, not a foe.”(1). Now he is power, we see the reality. This budget contains nothing to shift us away from our dependency on oil and gas, nothing to take advantage of the potential of new technologies such as wind, wave and tide, and precious little to encourage investment in renewable industries.
“Instead, he has gone for the gesture of a penny off fuel duty. It gives drivers the false comfort that as fuel prices rise, the government will cut fuel duty. The reality is that petrol is a dwindling resource and we need to help people with alternatives, such as public transport. But while Osborne could find £2 billion for petrol, there was not a penny today for buses or trains.
“The depressing truth is that, rather than being the greenest government ever, this Conservative-led coalition is less green that John Major’s administration, who introduced the fuel duty escalator, boosted energy efficiency and protection for threatened habitats. That this should be a coalition with the Liberal Democrats is doubly shocking.”
1) The Government’s own analysis (by Redpoint for HMT and DECC) is that the subsidy will be £1.33 billion; WWF estimate it at £3 billion.