The March budget is the latest blow to environmental protection to be unveiled by the Tories, who lied through their teeth when they promised to be the ‘greenest government ever’ before coming to power. The massive gulf between what they say and do was particularly marked during this latest budget. During Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs), David Cameron made outrageous boasts about his government’s green credentials. Shortly after, George Osborne announced a number of budgetary changes that could substantially set back environmental progress in the UK.
During PMQs, Jeremy Corbyn pushed the Prime Minister on air quality, asking pointed questions about how much it was costing in terms of the economy and human lives. In defence of the Tories’ environmental record, Cameron pointed out that is was his party that passed the Clean Air Act.
Cameron also claimed that the UK is:
blazing a trail in more renewable energy
And in this statement, he somehow managed to boast about future achievements:
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if we deliver on our carbon reduction plan for electricity generation, we will see roughly an 85% reduction in carbon between 1990 and 2030. That will give us one of the best green records anywhere in the world.
That’s a big ‘if’, considering experts have consistently warned that Britain risks missing its 2020 climate reduction targets.
After trumpeting these not-yet-achieved successes, the Prime Minister passed over to his Chancellor.
Hidden among Osborne’s rhetoric and political double-speak were a number of measures that do not bode well for the environment, and that once again call into question the Tories’ commitment to tackling climate change.
First for the axe was the Climate Reduction Commitment (CRC), of which Osborne said:
It’s not a commitment, it’s a tax. So I’m going to tell the house, we’re not going to reform it. I’ve decided to abolish it all together
CRCs are essentially a carbon pricing scheme which provide an incentive for large public and private sector organisations to lower their carbon impact. Because they only apply to large institutions, abolishing them is essentially a tax break for big businesses, and for some public bodies.
He goes on to say:
to make good the lost revenue – the Climate Change Levy will rise from 2019.
What could be more environmentally friendly than a Climate Change Levy (CCL)? Quite a lot when we consider that it has been changed to include renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, as happened in last July’s budget, and that it applies to most medium and small businesses as well.
So essentially, dropping the CRC in favour of the CCL means a tax break for the most polluting large corporations, and a tax hike for almost every other business. Great going for the ‘greenest government ever’, not to mention a slap in the face to small businesses everywhere.
But the biggest setback to environmental progress is the set of cosy tax breaks meted out to the ailing oil and gas industries. Osborne announced that this year’s budget would see tax on oil and gas halved, and the Petroleum Revenue tax abolished as well.
These attempts to prop up a failing and unsustainable industry come at a huge cost to the British taxpayer, with last year’s estimates suggesting fossil fuel firms have received a total of £6bn in government subsidies. In addition, the North Sea oil revenues were essentially negative last year, with the result that collecting tax receipts actually cost the Treasury £39m.
Such a reality should have been taken as a sign that relying on fossil fuels is as economically unsustainable as it is environmentally unsustainable. And the appropriate action to take would have been to hasten the ongoing transition to an economy based on clean, renewable energy by whatever means necessary.
Yet again, the Chancellor has bowed down to the vested interests with a stranglehold on technological progress. In doing so, he has given us not a ‘budget for the long term’, but one that is stuck in outdated practices and that holds us back socially, environmentally and economically.
– For a blow-by-blow account of Corbyn skewering Cameron on air pollution, see here.
– Take a look at Friends of The Earth.
– Get seriously, seriously into electric cars.
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