Response to the Spring Statement 2019

15 March 2019

Fresh from the chaos of another botched Brexit vote, Chancellor Phillip Hammond pitched his ‘clean growth’ strategy in this week’s Spring Statement address. In a bid to appeal to the ‘next generation’ of voters, the greenwashed Statement touched broadly on carbon emissions, biodiversity, and greening up the UK grid.

But far from delivering the blow needed to combat the global environmental crisis, the policies appear to be little else than a thinly veiled attempt to alleviate environmental concerns and rebrand the Tory government as climate-conscious.

What is the government actually proposing?

Amid the green fluff of this year’s Spring Statement, the Chancellor presented the following ‘clean growth’ initiatives:

  • The Future Homes Standard which proposes that new build homes are fitted with low carbon heating by 2025, to help lower energy bills and protect the environment. Ironically, this promise comes from the same government that scrapped plans to make all new homes carbon neutral in 2015.
  • Optional ‘zero carbon’ air travel to improve consumer understanding of journey emissions, and give the option to offset them. Air travel is one of the highest contributors to carbon emissions within the transport sector, so optional carbon offsetting doesn’t go nearly far enough to tackle transport pollution.
  • Global review of biodiversity to assess its economic value. This economic focus plays into the Statement’s short-sighted view of ‘green capitalism’, which is a huge contradiction in itself. We don’t need an economic value on global biodiversity. We already know that human activity has decimated wildlife habitats and contributed to species extinction across the globe – it’s time to act now.
  • Increase green gas going into the grid, to help reduce our dependence on natural gas and meet climate targets. It’s unclear how this fits with the government’s support of exploratory fracking – particularly amid reports that fracking at Preston New Road is due to start again, after earthquakes near the site halted activity.
  • Help conserve natural habitats in UK overseas territories, including designating 443,000 km2 of waters as a Marine Protected Area. The world’s oceans are drowning in plastic, and we’re witnessing species decline at an unprecedented rate. This proposal doesn’t come close to addressing the real issue plaguing our oceans.
  • Increase biodiversity on new housing developments, which requires developers to show how their plans would improve biodiversity and protect habitats. This fails to recognise that intensive farming is one of the biggest causes of biodiversity decline in the UK – with farming land accounting for 70% of British countryside.
  • Businesses energy efficiency scheme, to help smaller businesses reduce their energy bills and carbon emissions. Only 10% of UK companies currently have a strategy for reducing carbon emissions – and none of them have a science-based target for fighting climate change. Scrutinising smaller businesses shifts focus away from larger corporations, who fail to take responsibility for their carbon footprint.

Alternative policies that would make a real impact

The Chancellor’s Statement masquerades as the greenest in parliamentary history, but the reality of it just doesn’t stand up to the global crisis we’ve created.

If we have any hope of saving our planet, we urgently need to tackle the main contributors to climate change – energy, transport and food. Our founder, Dale Vince, suggests these alternatives to creating a greener Britain:

Back renewable energy

Despite widespread adoption throughout the rest of Europe, renewable energy generation doesn’t receive the government backing needed to reduce carbon emissions in the UK. Instead of making arbitrary promises to put more green gas into the grid, our government should:

  • Lift the ban on onshore wind. It’s the cheapest and most sustainable form of new energy available to us, but our government isn’t providing financial or legislative backing. Support for onshore wind turbines would reduce CO2 emissions and help power Britain with 100% green electricity.
  • Switch the balance of energy subsidies. The government currently provides more funding for fossil fuel energy than they do for green energy. We should be spending money on energy sources that reverse climate change, not those we know cause it. The government should shift its focus, and end support for fossil fuels altogether.
  • Stop taxing renewables. When renewable energy exemptions were scrapped from the Climate Change Levy (CCL) in 2015, green energy production became taxable. Reinstating the CCL renewables exemption would create greater incentive for green energy generation, and we could start phasing out our reliance on dirty energy. 

Ban fracking

Less than 20% of the public support fracking, and more than a quarter of a million signed a petition to ban it. Despite this, the government still continues to extend support to fracking companies – approving licences, blocking local council democratic process, and imprisoning anti-fracking protesters.

We know that fracking is bad for the environment, and it doesn’t matter how much shale resource drilling unearths – it’s not sustainable. The government needs to end its support for fracking, and support clean energy sources instead.

Incentivise adoption of electric vehicles

Carbon emissions from transport are one of the biggest causes of carbon emissions in the UK. The government has committed to phasing out diesel vehicles by 2040, but still isn’t incentivising the sustainable alternative – the maximum low emission vehicle grant available is just £3,500.

Electric vehicles need to be subject to greater tax breaks and subsidised by the government, in order to encourage widespread take-up and tackle transport carbon emissions.

Ban intensive farming

Meat and dairy production accounts for 60% of all of farming’s carbon emissions – but it only provides 18% of food calories. It isn’t a sustainable way to feed a growing population, and its wreaking havoc on the planet – decimating forestry and natural habitats, and pumping the atmosphere full of greenhouse gasses.

The government should support meat and dairy farmers to transition to sustainable, arable farming, and fund education on the environmental and health benefits of vegetarian and vegan diets

Zero carbon new homes

The zero carbon homes policy was introduced by the Labour government in 2006, in a bid to ensure that all new homes built in the UK would be carbon neutral by 2016. It would have meant that all new homes could generate as much energy from renewables – like wind and solar – as they would use in heating and electricity.

But plans were scrapped by the Tory government in 2015, and with the end of solar power incentives and the Feed in-Tariff scheme, we now trail behind the rest of Europe.

To stand any chance of reducing our carbon emissions from housing and meeting our climate change targets, the government needs to start investing in building new carbon neutral housing and making old properties more energy efficient.

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