This week, the Chancellor Philip Hammond outlined his budget. At WWF, we don’t just run conservation programmes to protect species and habitats abroad – it’s also crucial that we make sure we’re acting responsibly and showing leadership on climate change here in the UK too. Leadership is about being the change we want to see in the world; but we also just can’t protect species and habitats in the long run if we don’t tackle climate change. Here’s my take on the main announcements.
It is a huge disappointment that there will be no new investment in UK renewables. Instead the Government has prioritised dirty polluting fossil fuels from the North Sea, over and above investing in a new future. It is hard to see how this squares with the government’s stated ambition in the Clean Growth Strategy without more investment in, well, clean growth! As it stands, we don’t have the policies and investment we need to close the gaps and deliver on our fourth and fifth carbon budgets – the emissions reductions we need out to 2032. This budget did little to help that.
The Chancellor is correct about the need to shift to electric vehicles ‘as soon as possible’ – we need fewer cars on the road, and we need more of them to be zero emissions. That’s why we’ve been calling on the UK Government to seize the initiative by committing to no new diesel or petrol car sales by 2030 rather than 2040, in order to unlock investment and encourage this game-changing shift. At the moment, we’re just not ambitious enough. New money for charging points is really welcome, of course; but is the scale enough to avoid ‘queues at the power pumps’?
Homes account for a fifth of UK emissions and around a third of our energy use each year – a big deal if we’re to tackle climate change. Philip Hammond has missed a trick by not recognising the importance of building high quality, environmentally friendly homes. We definitely need new homes – but we need good quality new homes, fit for the future: cheaper to run, comfortable to live in and good for the planet. Another thing missing from this budget.
But it wasn’t just about carbon. If you saw Blue Planet II last weekend, you’ll have been reminded of the severity of the threat to our oceans that plastics pose. So it was very good to hear an announcement around taking this on. There’s a real urgency to stopping this problem from worsening, and action needs to be really ambitious in scope and scale if the UK is to achieve its goal of leaving the environment in a better state than it inherited it.
This budget – as is often the case – is a mixed bag, then, from an environmental perspective. But the problem is that, just after the Clean Growth Strategy was published, and just after everyone has been in Bonn discussing international climate action, it feels as though there’s confusion in the UK government about where its priorities lie. Whilst support for electric vehicles and promising to tackle the scourge of single use plastics is very much to be welcomed, other measures point in the opposite direction. The lack of any new money for renewables until at least 2025 is the most striking – especially whilst giving fossil fuels an easy ride – freezing the fuel duty for diesel and petrol cars, and building more roads. This Budget misses the mark. It doesn’t represent the significant ambition to secure the future for our planet that we really needed to see from the Chancellor.