'A mixed picture': Key green economy figures react to the Budget's environmental provisions
After Chancellor Rishi Sunak opened his red budget box to reveal fresh funding for natural climate solutions and carbon capture and storage (CCS), edie rounds up what key green economy leaders make of the new financial measures for the net-zero transition.
Taking place earlier this afternoon (11 March), the Budget was Rishi Sunak’s first as Chancellor, after Sajid Javid made a shock resignation ahead of last month’s Cabinet reshuffle.
Javid had promised to deliver a “green” Budget including fresh fiscal measures to incentivise the low-carbon transition across the transport, built environment and energy sectors – so Sunak’s appointment, naturally, cast doubts around this vow.
The good news is that Sunak used his speech to unveil multi-million-pound spending pots promised for low-carbon transport, renewable energy, natural climate solutions and carbon capture and storage (CCS). The Budget also allocated an additional £10m to support the design and delivery of net-zero policies and programmes.
But on the other hand: The decisions to freeze tax increases on petrol and diesel fuel duty for the 11th time and to invest more than £27bn in new roads have proven unanimously unpopular across the green economy.
Here, edie rounds up the sense of optimism – and the persisting concerns – that the Budget has instilled in green groups across the UK.
Read edie's full breakdown of the Budget's major talking points here.
CCC Chairman Lord Deben said:
“This is a realistic start. Obviously, we will have to wait for the Infrastructure Strategy to see it all in the round. I am particularly pleased to see the Chancellor’s support for CCS and for his determination to use the tax system to encourage the right environmental choices."
The Aldersgate Group’s chief executive Nick Molho said:
“Today’s budget announcement devoted more time to the environment and climate change than many of its predecessors. It contained some welcome announcements on nature, urban transport, the move towards EVs and a much-needed scaling up of innovation support for industrial decarbonisation and CCS. The multi-year funding support for eight mayoral combined authorities and investment in the Cities Transformation Fund are particularly welcome as local bodies are best placed to deliver improvements in public transport that will help reduce car journeys.
“Gaps still remain to put the UK on track for net-zero emissions, such as improving the energy efficiency of the building stock, developing an integrated low carbon transport strategy in line with the lessons from the recent Heathrow ruling, and creating a national low carbon skills strategy to support the workforce. To close these gaps, ensure policy coherence and put the UK credibly on track for its target, the government should build on today’s announcements and publish a net-zero delivery plan well ahead of COP26."
Green Alliance's head of energy and climate Chaitanya Kumar said:
"All in all, today’s budget is an underwhelming start to the year of climate action. The upcoming National Infrastructure Strategy needs much stronger plans on energy efficiency, zero-carbon infrastructure and resources."
Business in the Community's environment director Gudrun Cartwright said:
“From an environmental perspective, it was disappointing not to see a more joined-up Budget, especially given the fast-approaching COP26 conference in Glasgow.
“Yes, there were some positives, such as the restriction of red diesel tax relief, a Nature for Climate Fund, an increased plastic packaging tax and a £900m investment in green transport solutions, but there was also the usual lack of urgency.
“With climate change on red alert, why wait two years to abolish red diesel tax relief and then leave it in place anyway for the sectors, such as agriculture and rail, that use it most?
“The green economy is increasingly on the radar of Government, that much is clear, but once again the message that we need drastic change now to avoid an existential threat isn't getting through.
“The Government appears to think that it has time on its hands. Sadly, time is running out - and fast.”
PwC's UK environmental tax lead Jayne Harrold said:
“In terms of commitment to the environment, and particularly net-zero, this Budget didn’t ‘get it done’ but signposted bigger things to come in the Autumn Budget following publication of the net-zero strategic review in advance of COP26. That package will likely reinforce the Government’s strategic priorities for COP26 of nature, adaptation, finance, innovation and technology.
“While the Budget seemed to tweak the existing framework rather than announce any significant new change, the Chancellor has introduced a reasonably rounded package of individual measures. However, there are mixed messages."
The Environmental Services Association’s (ESA) executive director Jacob Hayler said:
“A levy on manufacturers from 2022 of £200 per tonne for plastic packaging that doesn’t contain at least 30% recycled content will help to unlock future investment in British recycling infrastructure and allow the resources and waste sector to re-shore valuable materials currently lost to export markets.
“However, it is only a starting point and needs to go hand-in-hand with other measures to stimulate local markets for recycled content and discourage manufacturers from using complex, wasteful, packaging that cannot be reused or recycled.”
“Moreover, it’s a mixed picture because the rise in duty on red diesel announced by the Chancellor today is a major blow for the recycling and waste management sector, which relies on diesel fuels to keep vital public facilities like recycling centres and waste transfer stations running efficiently. Our sector is as vital to society as agriculture, rail and fishing, so to not include the sector in the retained relief is a clear oversight by Government and a snub to an industry that, since the early 1990s, has reduced its carbon emissions by more than 70%.
"At the moment, there is no viable low or zero-carbon alternative to the many specialist vehicles used by our essential sector, so these new taxes represent nothing but a penalty to industry and will inevitably increase service costs to tax-payers and businesses.”
The Solar Trade Association’s (STA) chief executive Chris Hewett said:
“Unfortunately, this Budget is thin on measures to tackle climate change and support the transition to a low-carbon economy. Renewables are vital to reaching net-zero, and without good policies in place to support the uptake of solar we will fall well short of the 40GW needed by 2030 to keep on track.
“The freeze on the carbon price support rate is particularly disappointing, as is the lack of any meaningful policy on energy efficiency and green improvements for existing homes, such as solar and battery storage.”
“We do welcome the decision to hold a review of business rates, which are the main barrier to the deployment of large rooftop PV. Additionally, we are pleased to see an extension to the Renewable Heat Incentive, and the introduction of a Low Carbon Heat Support Scheme which categorically must apply to solar heat technologies.”
The University of Sussex’s energy policy professor Steven Sorrell said:
“It is a mistake to freeze the fuel duty escalator for the tenth year in a row, threatening attainment of UK's net-zero target and damaging the UK's credibility in advance of hosting the UN climate conference.
“Car drivers have enjoyed a large price cut in real terms since 2010, since the price of gasoline and diesel has not kept pace with inflation. At the same time, public transport fares have risen faster than inflation and bus travel has declined.
“Our transport system needs to undergo fundamental changes, not just to reduce carbon emissions but also to tackle the problems of congestion, poor air quality, inadequate infrastructure and social exclusion. This will require a range of policies, but higher fuel taxes form an essential part of the mix.”
Green New Deal UK and UKSCN said:
“Rishi Sunak’s first Budget is neither bold nor brave in the face of the climate crisis. It certainly doesn’t ‘get it done’ for all of us worried about a liveable future.
“The freeze on fuel duty, delay to cuts on red diesel and the biggest ever public investment in roads will lock us into climate breakdown. At the same time, the Government wants us to pin our hopes on CCS technology which does not exist yet to solve the problem.”
The carbon capture and storage association’s chief executive Luke Warren said:
“The announcement of at least £800m to support the development of two or more CCS clusters in the 2020s is a really welcome and a very significant step forward. The UK Government has clearly recognised that CCS is an essential tool if we are to achieve the net-zero target and they have now taken action to make CCS a reality.
“We look forward to working with the Government in the run-up to the Spending Review on the detail of how these funds can be used to ensure that CCS is deployed in multiple industrial regions in the 2020s, helping to support their transition to a net-zero economy and creating the low carbon sectors of the future.”
Oxfam’s head of government relations Toni Pearce said:
"This Budget promises to deliver 4,000 miles of roads but offers no route to a zero-carbon future. In this key year for action on the climate emergency, the Chancellor is tinkering around the edges while delaying the big decisions. The Government should show global leadership, as befits the first country to commit to net-zero, by putting the UK firmly on track to meet that commitment.
"We welcome the promised investment in green transport and the natural environment, but this Budget was a missed opportunity to show the ambition that is needed to protect people on the front lines of climate change. It offered nothing on much-needed measures to make homes and buildings more energy efficient or to tax the most polluting forms of transport."
The Wildlife Trusts’ director of public affairs Joan Edwards said:
“We are facing two inextricably linked crises – the climate emergency and the massive decline of nature across the globe. The Government’s Budget has recognised that we cannot solve one crisis without tackling the other.
“The Nature for Climate fund could help restore vital habitats, such as peatlands and saltmarshes, which have huge potential to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as well as helping nature to recover. It is essential that this is done as part of a wider national Nature Recovery Network to restore ecosystems and give wildlife space to adapt and thrive.
“But for this to be a truly green budget, the Government must ensure new spending announced on road infrastructure does not come at the expense of nature. It is vitally important that we protect our remaining wild places – for the benefit of people and wildlife.
The Scottish Green Party’s co-leader and finance spokesman Patrick Harvie said:
“The Chancellor said he was ‘mindful of the environment’, but it’s clear this government is nothing of the sort. Westminster is investing in the problem, rather than the solution, and the Scottish Government must not do the same with the £640m extra consequentials coming to Scotland. That means ministers following the advice of their own infrastructure commission and investing in low carbon alternatives.”
Tanya Steele, Chief Executive of WWF-UK, said:
“It’s right the Government tackled the economic impacts of the coronavirus today and we’re encouraged they also have the environment in their sights – we cannot protect the lives and livelihoods at risk from the climate and nature crisis without the same urgency of investment and action.
“The Chancellor’s commitment to restoring nature and the initial spending announcements on how he plans to achieve it are a positive step forward, but we’re relying on the upcoming spending review to deliver more if we are to achieve net-zero and restore nature.”
Mitie’s director of sustainability and social mobility Simon King said:
“As one of the largest private-sector electric vehicle fleets in the UK, it’s gratifying that the Chancellor has heard our calls for improved rapid charge point infrastructure and financial reforms to support the electric car and van market. However, if we are to make the most of these commitments and rollout electric vehicles to every single Mitie driver, this investment must focus on areas where no off-street parking is available.”
Friends of the Earth’s head of policy Mike Childs said:
“This Budget contains a massive road-building programme which completely destroys any pretence of UK government leadership ahead of this years’ crucial climate summit.
“Funding for cleaner cars, EV charging, action on plastics and more trees are just a few green sprinklings on a truly awful budget.
“When it comes to fixing our broken planet, this Chancellor certainly isn’t getting it done.”
JLL UK's head of sustainability Sophie Walker said:
"Today’s announcement is certainly a step in the right direction, particularly with regard to addressing social and regional inequality, but in no way can we claim that the environment is at the heart of the Government’s economic planning.
"Increasing R&D investment is, of course, commendable, but without clear subsequent support in the upcoming National Infrastructure Strategy, we still risk missing our net-zero carbon goal. We stand at a critical crossroads, where the Government needs to act to ensure the Chancellor’s words aren’t simply more hot air. We simply can’t afford to look hypocritical as we seek to corral global leaders to deliver in the run-up to COP26."
IEMA's chief policy advisor Martin Baxter said:
“While IEMA welcomes the significant commitments announced in Budget 2020, questions remain over whether this reflects the urgency of tackling the climate and environmental emergency.
"Additional investments in flood resilience and R&D, a new ‘nature for climate fund’ and two new CCS hubs will help to put sustainability at the heart of the UK’s economy. However, freezing fuel duty and the absence of measures to tackle energy efficiency in the home are missed opportunities to accelerate the transition to net-zero.”
Polly Billington, Director of UK100 said:
“While support for electric cars and for councils to reduce air pollution is welcome, it is still less than 5% of the £27bn the Chancellor has found for new road investment. 700 people die every week from illegal air pollution. In the year of COP, the Government needs to take action to arrest the climate emergency and tackle toxic air pollution.”
Claire Haigh of Greener Journeys said:
“We are extremely disappointed that the Chancellor missed this golden opportunity to end the freeze in fuel duty, especially given the sharp drop in the price of oil. As hosts of this year’s COP26 UN Climate Summit, the UK must show leadership on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Ending the freeze in fuel duty would have sent a clear signal around the world that the UK is serious about meeting its net-zero target.
"The Government’s nine-year freeze in fuel duty... has also been damaging for public transport networks leading to 5% more traffic, 250 million fewer bus journeys and 75 million fewer rail journeys.”
National Grid's UK Executive director Nicola Shaw said:
"It's great to see that range anxiety has been recognised as a key blocker to the mass take-up of electric vehicles. We look forward to working with Government on their review of charging infrastructure along the full strategic road network.
"By investing today in the electricity infrastructure that will support the charging hubs of tomorrow, the government can help fast-track the take-up of EVs, cutting carbon and improving air quality for communities the length and breadth of the country.
"We welcome also the funding commitment for CCS in multiple clusters, which is critical to the decarbonisation of Britain’s industrial heartlands."
UKGBC's chief executive Julie Hirigoygen said:
“Just days ago, the Chancellor billed today’s Budget as one which would 'be about reaching net-zero and protecting our environment’. Clearly that did not ‘get done’.
"While Coronavirus is rightly at the forefront of everyone’s minds right now, the transition to net-zero is also incredibly urgent, with this upcoming decade crucial to achieving it. Yet Government plans remain incredibly light on detail – especially with regards to buildings, energy efficiency and heat – all of which are crucial planks of a net-zero economy. Instead, the can has been kicked down the road again, with the promise of ‘more detail’ in the Treasury’s Net Zero Review due to be published ahead of COP26 in November.”
Recap on edie's Budget Live Blog here: