Sarah Dobson & Eilidh Robb put their heads together to work out the UK’s Budget, here’s what they had to say…
After the media buzz surrounding the IPCC report just three weeks ago, you’d be forgiven for expecting climate change to be a huge part of the 2018 Budget. The report gave us twelve years to stop the impending climate catastrophe, yet in Chancellor Philip Hammond’s 72 minute speech yesterday he made no mention of climate change and in the Budget document the chief mention is relating to support for oil and gas industries. While the media was finally talking about the individual and collective changes we need to be making, the UK government was freezing fuel duty for the ninth consecutive year.
The Government wants a Budget that “paves the way for a brighter future” but they certainly don’t seem to be concerned about a greener future.
Environmental Mentions in the Budget
This is not to say the environment was completely absent from the Budget yesterday. The government proposed a tax on all packaging that contains less than 30% recycled items. Yet, this won’t come into effect until 2022 when we’ll be four years closer to our meteorological meltdown. This tax is a token – simply a drop in the ocean for saving our oceans, and as a huge contributor to plastic waste, the UK simply has to do better.
Also touted as a major environmental policy from this year’s Budget is the £60 million put towards planting trees. This most basic of environmental ideas was completely overshadowed by the £30 billion which was promised for road infrastructure. The government may care about reforestation, but it’s clear which is the bigger priority in their mind (hint: not sustainable public transport).
It should be noted however that Theresa’s proclamation for a phase-out of diesel and petrol cars wasn’t ignored. The Budget does state that it would extend the enhanced capital allowances (ECAs) for companies investing in electric vehicle charge points to March 2023. Claiming to be a move to “achieve the government’s ambition for the UK to become a world-leader in the ultra-low emission vehicle market”… We have already expressed our thoughts on this – and claims about being ‘world-leaders’ are fundamentally false.
As mentioned before, the frozen fuel duty has become something of a recurring joke at environmental activists’ expense. Instead of investing in public transport, the Budget provides for pollution, poor health and a profusion of cars on the roads. Keeping fuel costs low might help their public approval in the short-term but shows their complete ineptitude in preparing for a transformed world. To truly give the British people “stability” we need to think long-term and that means zero carbon.
With reference to that long-term thinking, the environmental changes post-Brexit need to be considered, and the Budget does provide a brief outline. The report references the EU Emissions Trading Scheme but, completely contrary to the ‘free market’ aspect of the scheme, have proposed a freeze on the Carbon Price Support Rate. This means that industries will not have to consider the increasing costs of carbon emissions, effectively removing their incentive to decrease emissions. More alarmingly, they suggest that in 2021-2022 they might lower carbon price support, taking the pressure off industries and putting the pressure back on the planet. Their plans post-Brexit do however suggest the introduction of a Carbon Emissions Tax to help meet the UK’s legally binding carbon reduction commitments under the Climate Change Act – though this commitment is only an 80% reduction in net UK carbon from the 1990 baseline – a commitment that falls short of the IPCC report suggestions.
All in all, the government’s attempts to tackle climate change within the Budget demonstrate how easily one can misuse the word ‘ambition’.
Many climate campaigners expected the heralded “Latte Levy” – a 25p tax on disposable coffee cups which has been championed since January due its widespread support from MPs. Though the government love to take credit for the plastic bag tax success, they seem incredibly wary of repeating the process with coffee cups. Some claim this omission was due to new, increased recycling figures for the cups but the government stated that “a levy on all cups would not at this time be effective in encouraging widespread reuse”. In other words, given that the rest of the Budget fails to tackle climate change in any tangible manner, don’t be too surprised if we never hear about the infamous Latte Levy again!
The combination of an exceedingly hot summer alongside the harrowing IPCC report has left climate change on the collective British brain. So how is it possible that the chief direct reference to climate change in the Budget document is in reference to a “Climate Change Levy” which aims to “move towards equalised gas and electricity rates”? Yet somehow, we aren’t exactly surprised to see the government continuing to push gas as a ‘clean’ alternative.
Renewables! Nowhere in the Budget can the word renewables be found, and this is quite a blow. Although this may be a reflection of the fact that the government prefer to say clean energy to further support their false narrative around gas, it also indicates that there is no explicit provision for true, clean, and sustainable renewable energy anywhere within this report. This is all especially alarming considering the government has also been working recently to stop fair payment for solar producers putting their energy on the grid!
What Should They Have Done?
This Budget is telling, and reflects the Conservatives’ attempts to regain the British public’s trust as well as reassuring them over Brexit fears. But it completely misses the mark in terms of accounting for climate change.
The Budget failed on all accounts to address the long-term economic impacts of climate change; if they had, there is no way the climate change provisions would look like they do. Similarly, there is no attempt to address the key knock-on benefits that arise from environmental policies such as reduced spending on health (in a world with less air pollution, and fewer natural disasters), less spending required for road infrastructures (when public transport becomes efficient and affordable enough to have fewer cars on the road) and far less fuel poverty with cheaper renewables.
The IPCC report did it’s best to wake people up to the urgency of climate change, but it seems that the government can’t look beyond tomorrow’s bottomline, and if that attitude continues, it’s hard to put our faith in the government.
And finally, as ever, this Budget is inherently England-centric. Scotland has been continuously showing up the government’s attempts to address climate change, and yet the Budget provides them with support for the oil and gas sector, including “transferable tax history” making it easier for Scotland to pollute, but harder to go green. Completely ignoring and, arguably, hindering their ability to compete in the renewables market which puts the planet above profits.
If the government truly wants to take “further steps to ensure a positive future” then they have to start accounting for climate change. Instead of playing politics while Rome burns, they have to wake up to the fierce reality of climate breakdown, and start doing something about it. In the meantime, we urge you to get out there and fight for what they’ve ignored – contact your MPs, sign petitions and tell your friends and family exactly what will happen to the environment if we continue down this path!
The future is ours, so let’s make it a good one!
Sarah Dobson & Eilidh Robb