On the face of it George Osborne’s Budget doesn’t say much about the environment. But if you dig into the details there is plenty to show that David Cameron’s claim that the last government would be the ‘greenest ever’ has long been dumped in the husky poo.
In the year when world leaders are supposed to agree new climate targets, we needed a budget to put us on track to reduce UK emissions by supporting clean energy and efficiency, and making dirty energy less attractive. Instead we have the opposite with the Chancellor subsidising those companies intent on creating climate chaos.
Despite the astronomical profits that the oil companies have made for decades in the North Sea, every time there is a challenge, be it low oil prices or the scale of the bill to clean up after themselves, they expect the tax payer to help them out. Yesterday’s budget has yet more public subsidies for oil companies operating in the North Sea, so the UK Government is encouraging more oil extraction when the climate cannot afford us to burn what we already plan to take out.
The budget also promises a wealth fund for fracking. This sounds like little more than the community bribes already promised by the likes of INEOS. No surprise bribes are deemed necessary since the Government was last week forced to publish its secret report that shows house prices falling and insurance costs going up near fracking sites.
Cameron and Osborne are clearly still desperate to give every enticement to this dirty and dangerous industry. This is despite the reality across the UK, with moratoria in Scotland and Wales, the latest applications in Lancashire turned down just last week after massive community opposition, and no actual fracking having taken place anywhere for four years.
An unexpected announcement was that road tax would go to a new fund to build roads. How this would work in Scotland is a mystery because road tax is collected at the UK level while we control our own transport policy and priorities in Scotland. At the most ridiculous, Scotland could be transferred a share of the money that can only be spent on roads when instead we want to improve the rail network, invest in cycling and reduce illegal levels of air pollution from city traffic.
Combined with the recent announcement to cut support for wind farms, and no extra boost to the UK’s struggling home insulation programmes, this is a budget that drives the UK towards high-carbon, precisely when we should be getting ourselves in shape to be a lead player in a low-carbon world.
It is a budget that will be bad for Scotland, where fracking is half way to being banned, transport priorities are different, many homes desperately need an energy efficiency boost and renewable energy should be the backbone of our energy economy. Bad for jobs, bad for our economy and bad for the environment.
A version of this blog appeared in The National on 9th July 2015