On Wednesday (3 December), Chancellor George Osborne gave his annual ‘mini budget’, providing an update on the Government’s economic plans before the General Election in May.

In last year’s Autumn Statement, Osborne skimmed over the rising energy bills debate and offered brief detail on the Coalition’s carbon and energy security plans. This year, sustainability professionals are calling for a better long-term strategy for sustainability, rapid decarbonisation and a move towards a fully circular economy. But were these calls answered?

Edie rounded up the key areas that environmental groups and industry representatives would like to see being addressed by the so-called ‘Greenest Government Ever’.

1. “Heat people, not the planet” – Friends of the Earth 

Friends of the Earth advise the Chancellor to prioritise peoples’ health, homes and quality of life.

FoE senior economics campaigner David Powell said: “The Government must put the well-being of people in Britain first – but all too often the Chancellor has championed big business and their profits, despite the impact this has on our health, homes and quality of life. 

“We need to build a clean, modern and prosperous economy that’s fit for the challenges of the 21st century such as energy efficiency, clean power and efficient public transport – not more gas and oil, roads and heat-leaking homes that heat the planet instead of people.” 

The campaign group wants the Government to prioritise the phasing out of fossil fuels; introduce a national programme to insulate houses; increase investment in flood defences; allow schools to borrow funds to invest in solar power; aim to drive rapid carbon reduction, resource efficiency and improved wellbeing; and pledge to deliver a Stern Review for Resources.

2. “Get to work on decarbonising the UK economy” – Aldersgate Group

The Aldersgate Group – an alliance of leaders from business, politics and civil society that drives action for a sustainable economy – wants to see ‘ambitious leadership from all political parties to create an efficient, resilient and low-carbon economy.’

A spokesperson for the Aldersgate Group said: “The Autumn Statement will fire the starting pistol for the General Election campaign.

“By the end of the next Parliament, the UK economy should have decarbonised by at least 35% compared to 1990 levels and overall biodiversity loss must have halted if we are to effectively address the environmental challenges that we face today.

“Given the magnitude of these goals, work towards them cannot start too soon. The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement should resist business as usual measures and ensure that the policies he outlines will put the UK on a firm path to a thriving, sustainable and resilient economy.”

3. “Financial incentives for waste management” – SITA UK

SITA UK’s external affairs director Gev Eduljee said: “If we had two wishes for the autumn statement, the first would be for new financial incentives, running alongside regulatory drivers, to help develop a sustainable domestic market for recyclates, so that the UK can benefit from the economic growth and green jobs our sector can deliver. 

“The second would aim to maximise value for householders by requiring local authority services, such as waste management, to be subject to compulsory competitive tender – allowing the open market to determine the best bid, offering service excellence, at least cost.” 

4. “Face up to the fuel poverty crisis” – Various organisations 

A group of organisations including Age UK, National Energy Action (NEA) and the Energy Saving Trust want to see the Government announce additional emergency funding for heating and insulation measures to help reduce the number of vulnerable people who die of cold-related illnesses this winter. 

The Department of Energy and Climate Change recently published its latest Energy Company Obligation Monthly Report which showed that support for vulnerable households through the ECO Affordable Warmth Scheme has fallen dramatically in the past year. 

NEA chief executive Jenny Saunders said: “NEA has deep concerns over the lack of funding for heating and insulation improvements to help the most vulnerable families over the course of this winter. I urge the Chancellor to release some of the billions of pounds that have gone into the Treasury this year from taxes and levies imposed on energy consumers.”

5. “Embrace the circular economy” – Resource Association 

The Resource Association is a professional advocacy body for the reprocessing and recycling industries.

The Association’s chief executive Ray Georgeson said: “I have plenty of hopes, but no expectations of the Autumn Statement. From what we have seen announced already, pre-Election shorter-term actions are taking precedence over longer-term sustainability that would benefit the environment and the economy alike.

“The Chancellor could of course confound us by announcing the restoration to the Treasury’s programme of the national review of resources risks he aborted a while back (the so-called Stern for Resources). That would be a good start on the road to a circular economy.”

6. “Reinvigorate recycling rates” – Environmental Services Association (ESA)

ESA’s economist Jacob Hayler said: “The UK has done a fantastic job in the past decade of boosting recycling rates from extremely low levels, drawing on private sources of finance to deliver a suite of recycling and energy from waste facilities, which divert waste from landfill and provide low-carbon energy for homes and businesses.

“But we are now at a crossroads where recycling rates have stalled, and the climate for investment in new waste and resources infrastructure isn’t supporting the development of the merchant facilities we need to move to the next stage of becoming a circular economy.

“In ESA’s view, the Government needs to improve the climate for investment in green infrastructure. It should do this through the introduction of new tax allowances for infrastructure expenditure, as well as the introduction of binding time limits on planning determinations.

“At the same time, the Government should signal that local authorities will be given the support they need to reach the 2020 recycling targets. DCLG should target support to those Authorities which maximise value for money with their private sector partners, rather than Pickles’s preoccupation with those which are struggling to maintain weekly collections.”

7. “One department, co-ordinated agenda” – Ricardo-AEA  

Resource efficiency and waste management practice director Adam Read from sustainability consultancy Ricardo-AEA said: “I think I would love to see a portfolio of great new incentives, tax breaks and ring-fenced investment for critical infrastructure that delivers renewable energy and more importantly prepares us for a circular economy… perhaps through a co-ordinated Government agenda and a single-led department…

“Beyond that, anything that signals greater engagement in climate change adaptation, mitigation and environmental and social protection would be great.”

8. “Better support for CHP” – Confederation of Paper Industries (CPI)

CPI director general David Workman has written to the Chancellor highlighting that the paper industry continues to reduce its energy consumption and carbon emissions. However, the sector remains a major user of gas and electricity and further progress must be made to address these issues. 

In the letter, Workman stated that the CPI wants the Carbon Price Support policy to be scrapped and a support policy set up for combined heat and power (CHP) generation. He also suggested the compensation package for electro-intensive installations is extended and the Climate Change Levy discount from the Climate Change Agreements is maximised.

Workman added that his organisation wants to see the promised partial relief from the Renewables Obligation and Contracts for Difference delivered as soon as possible, the Carbon Reduction Commitment and the subsidised use of biomass for low efficiency power generation scrapped, and a well-funded programme to support energy efficiency.

9. “Remember the floods of last winter” – The Chartered Institution of Water & Environmental Management (CIWEM)

CIWEM believes the Statement doesn’t address the ‘real and sustained levels of funding’ that will be required if the ‘challenges of climate change and the major flooding’ we see on an almost annual basis are to be met.

The annual maintenance of rivers is an essential activity that has been dramatically reduced through several decades of spending cuts.

The Institute has advised the Government that timely appropriate spending is both better for the environment and cheaper in the long-term.

CIWEM rivers and coastal treasurer Jed Ramsay said: “Whilst belt tightening is part and parcel of life at present, there are some areas that must be protected – investment in sustainable flood infrastructure is one such area.

“Failure to maintain our existing flood defences and invest sustainably and sensibly in new flood risk schemes will lead to continued loss of life and property, extensive damage to the UK economy and ongoing misery for millions of people.”

The Autumn Statement will take place on Wednesday, 3 December. Follow edie on Facebook and Twitter for live updates and stay tuned to the website for a full report following Osborne’s announcement.

Lois Vallely

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