Yesterday the Chancellor, George Osborne, unveiled his latest budget and Jeremy Corbyn took the Prime Minister to task on his clean energy policies. We are looking at a sugar tax, a new theatre in Merseyside, and more cuts but what did yesterday's parliamentary business tell us about the environment?
With the oil price low, and concern about air pollution on the up, this could have been a good moment to increase fuel duty and join the international charge to develop cutting edge renewable energy industries in the UK. However, we quickly saw those dreams turn to ash as the Chancellor announced supplementary charge for oil and gas producers to be halved from 20% to 10% and Petroleum Revenue Tax essentially abolished. This move would make little sense given our commitment to decarbonisation alone, but seen in the context of the Paris agreement, the government's propping up of the fossil fuel industry really makes no economic or environmental sense. Especially when the UK's home-grown renewable energy industry is about to 'fall off a cliff' due to government cuts. Renewables could power the UK in the future if they were given a sliver of the financial and political backing that is given to the nuclear or fossil industries. Rather than hoping to extract more from North Sea oil and gas, the government should be looking at a transition plan for the communities impacted by a declining industry including expanding offshore wind.
And then we come to infrastructure. We are a 'nation of builders' apparently. However, simply declaring all infrastructure to be worth pursuing whether or not it is compatible with Government and international policy on climate change is the opposite of protecting future generations. What we need to be asking is whether these projects pass the post Paris agreement climate test - whether they contribute to phasing out fossil fuel use. For example, whilst we would encourage the increase in public transport capacity in London and Northern England - it is clear that road-building our way to economic growth is a backwards step.
Climate and energy were hot topics earlier in the day as well as Jeremy Corbyn grilled the Prime Minister on air pollution and his clean energy policies. Corbyn asked the PM if he could tell the house how many people will die from respiratory disease as a result of air pollution before this country meets its legal obligations on air quality by 2025. Cameron 'didn't have those figures to hand', but Corbyn helpfully provided them. He told Cameron that half a million people could die because of this country's failure to comply with international law on air pollution. That's more people than the population of Liverpool. Not only that but the Royal College of Physicians estimates that air pollution costs our economy costs our economy £20billion per year. The truth is that the Prime Minister is either too afraid of recognizing these statistics or he is truly ignoring them. It is not enough to suggest the government "is taking steps to address air quality", we need strong, concrete, timetabled, tangible measures to face this significant health crisis.
Corbyn then challenged the Prime Minister to offer communities a "veto" on fracking projects in this areas. He asked a question from Angela in Lancaster, that if communities had the right to 'veto' onshore wind projects, why wouldn't that be extended to fracking? Cameron responded by referring to local planning processes and the growth in the number of solar panels in the country. Sadly, not really answering Angela, or Jeremy's question.
Perhaps as a last ditch attempt to gain the upper hand, the Prime Minister once again recalled the hugely controversial Hinkley Point nuclear power facility (which has been subject to huge delays and financial uncertainty throughout its plagued existence.) However, Hinkley was not mentioned once in the Budget, perhaps unsurprisingly as it becomes an increasingly embarrassing millstone round the Chancellor's neck.
It's clear that after the fanfare of the Paris climate agreement, the Chancellor has not taken seriously our climate commitments. Instead of fully backing renewables, he is showing his true colours by announcing yet more tax breaks for the fossil fuel industry. And if the Prime Minister truly intends to cut our carbon intensity by 85% by 2030, this is not the budget to get us there.