It was touted as the ‘green budget’, however yesterday the greenest hue was, arguably, to be found in the verdant leather of the empty benches behind Chancellor Phillip Hammond as he delivered an environmentally lacking Spring Statement.
Coming less than a week before the UK’s school children walk out of their classrooms in a second climate strike, many saw this as a chance for the Chancellor to put Brexit chaos aside and set out a long term plan to ensure the survival of the UK.
Because, as bothered as many of us are about ‘sovereignty’, ‘taking back control of our borders’ and, assumedly, the prominence of the pork pie in national cuisine, what is more important is the actual, physical survival of the lump of land the 66 million of us all live on.
That’s not to say Big Phil brought nothing to the environmental table. Indeed, on the face of it, some pretty promising stuff was dished up, including plans to consult with the aviation industry to beef up carbon offsetting; proposals to increase the amount of green gas on the grid; and a consultation for a scheme that could help small businesses improve their energy efficiency.
“As bothered as many of us are about ‘sovereignty’, what is more important is the actual, physical survival of the lump of land the 66 million of us all live on”
Even more promising, the Chancellor announced that – from 2025 – all new homes are to be built without gas boilers. Dubbed ‘The Future Homes Standard’, the move follows recommendations from the government’s climate change committee last month, which said 2025 was the latest date that new homes should cease to be connected to the gas grid.
In a win for marine life, the Chancellor also announced that 445,000 square kilometres of ocean around colonial territory Ascension Island would become a ‘Marine Protected Area’.
Citing the need to protect the UK environment, too, he added that he will use an upcoming Environment Bill too mandate that all development in England must have a ‘net biodiversity gain’, while top Cambridge boff Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta will be reviewing links between biodiversity and economic growth.
Proposals, plans and promises
Hoorah! You might say. All Good news! Keen readers, however, may have already spotted the problem with all this, which is – at the moment – it’s all just political guff. Also, pump Ascention Island into Google maps – it’ll make your day.
Offering his assessment, Nick Spicer, director of home solar experts Your Eco UK, says: “My gut feeling is that this is all too little, too late. Action is now required – not evidence gathering – given the situation of climate change.
“Decarbonisation of gas supplies can only be a positive, however you would question why only gas is being targeted when fossil fuels are equally harmful in the generation of electricity.
“My gut feeling is that this is all too little, too late”
“And in relation to the Future Home Standard – again, why so little, so late? I would also question the need for it at all when local councils are already implementing carbon neutral targets through emergency measures by 2030.”
Spicer’s comments echo those of Shadow Chancellor John McDonald following the Spring Statement, in which he pointed to the questionable record of the current government on climate measures.
This includes their scrapping of the Climate Change Levy exemption for renewables in 2015, the cancellation of the Zero Carbon Homes policy in the same year and closing applications for feed-in tariffs for small-scale solar generation from this year.
Many have also rounded on Big Phil’s ideas for ‘carbon offsetting’ in the aviation industry, pointing to the need to decarbonise transport more widely. While the transport industry is the world’s second biggest source of carbon emissions (accounting for 23 per cent of emissions), just 12 per cent comes from air travel – 74 per cent is from road transport.
Tom McGillycuddy, co-founder of impact investment app tickr, says: “Environmental measures announced today are a drop in the ocean. The Government needs to go much further, quicker. We only have 12 years left until the planet warms to dangerously high levels. Can we really afford to wait for new energy efficient homes to be built, or airlines to offer new carbon offsetting options for passengers?”
“We need to avoid developing a culture in which the rich can simply write a cheque to cover their pollution”
Pointing to the Chancellor’s comment on government plans to consult with industry about offering ‘zero carbon travel’ to those that want it, chief executive and founder of environmental investor Impax Asset Management Ian Simm says this could potentially set a dangerous future precedent:
He says: “We need to avoid developing a culture of ‘indulgences’ in which the rich can simply write a cheque to cover their pollution. There needs to be a more ambitious push to develop low carbon transport options, particularly rail and electric vehicles, but also including the development (over the longer term) of low carbon aircraft.”
Now to be fair to Phil, he’s got a lot on right on right now – what with the UK government currently facing the biggest constitutional crisis since, well, ever. As such, many hope that the autumn statement will offer much more in the way of firm commitments – in a number of areas.
In the meantime, McGillycuddy offers a couple of suggestions: “In order to make a meaningful difference quickly, we are calling for two things: first, a carbon tax needs to be introduced in the UK and globally. By reducing the power of the most carbon intensive industries, we will stimulate rapid growth of sustainable alternatives.
“Private companies and individuals need to exercise their ability to mobilise much faster than the state”
“Secondly, private companies and individuals need to exercise their ability to mobilise much faster than the state. There are many companies already playing an active part in reducing emissions and it’s imperative that their efforts are supported. More retail investment into these businesses is absolutely vital in achieving this.”
Are you listening Phil? Support sustainable investment. It’s the future.