Thursday, March 13, 2008

Alistair Darling's peely wally pale green budget

In Scotland the term 'peely wally' denotes a sickly pale green palor. That's the colour of the new Chancellor's budget. It had been touted to be the much needed great green budget - but it wasn't, it was a sop, a tinkering at the edges, but otherwise pretty much business as usual. In environmental terms there was no sense of seriously addressing 'stability' (he used this word a lot, 23 times, in an attempt to convince us all is well. It didn't work - it's the content that counts) at a time when our emissions continue to rise. My conclusion: it was a 'do nothing' budget.

On the up-side Darling threatened a tax on plastic bags (why threat - just do it. This is an old solution which the UK is still failing to implement), plans to penalise the most polluting cars (£950 for most polluting cars; why not make it thousands, or bolder yet - price them completely off the road or simply ban them) and reward the greenest through changes in car tax, tinkered with taxes on new green homes (retrofitting existing stock is a far larger problem that is not being properly addressed - Home Information Packs are not enough) and said a climate levy on business would continue (of course, why would it not?). "We need to do more and we need to do it now," Darling said presenting his first budget. "There will be catastrophic economic and social consequences if we fail to act." So act.

But didn't - he stood peering over the edge of the yawning abyss that lies ahead and instead stepped back. He delayed his planned rise in duty on road fuel, backed further airport expansion (this really is not joined up thinking. What fuel are planes going to be using in 10 years time? Hot air? Hot coal? No mention of the much needed reinforced public transport system to address peak oil) and simply announced a fresh consultation on boosting renewable energy. We really do not need another (sham) consultation. We need decisive decision making.

Darling did however announce the UK government support for all future allocations of carbon emission permits to power generators to be auctioned. (The current phase of European Union emission permits for the power generators were all allocated free, handing them billions of pounds in profits as they passed on the notional cost of the permits in higher energy costs to consumers) and that aviation be included in the next phase of the EU's Emissions Trading Scheme. But what of this? These are not UK decisions, they are EU decisions - and this is likely outcome at EU level with all EU member states voting to support these proposals in any event.

Is this what is called sending out mixed messages? Yes, the UK government supports taxing of flights because they accept they are a large contributor to climate change (4 - 7% CO2 emissions) but, hey, lets expand our airports and get more in the air while we are at it. Hmmm.

Last night I went to hear the Climate Tzar Lord Adair Turner (Chair of the government's Climate Change Committee) speak on Climate Change. He stayed for just two questions at the end and then scooted off. When asked what he would have put in the budget, he neatly side-stepped the question, but did make a few relevant points. In fact, he did that clever thing of completely rephrasing the question. He asked, does Fuel Duty work? His answer: it makes very little impact on using cars less but it can make a big impact on size of car chosen(i.e, more informed consumerism), so yes it does work. And now that it's in place it can be racked up in future years. Yes, fair enough, but Mr Turner you yourself acknowledged at the outset of your talk that it is because of our use of burning of fossil fuels that we have rapidly increasing greenhouse gas emissions. So, surely you agree with me on this: does this not point to the unavoidable fact that we need to stop using the very fuel that is creating our rapidly escalating emissions, rather than merely using it less fast?

1 comment:

dia(ry)tribe said...

The Australian Budget is soon to be released in May and is also being touted as the first Green Federal Budget. Although PM Rudd and his minister for climate change have us all anticipating serious action the promise for 31 Billion in tax cuts during the election, looming inflation and rising interest rates could result in a similiar 'peely wally' green budget.