As the Chancellor delivered his latest budget, Martin Fahey looks at how the renewable industry and environmental bodies have reacted.

Well that seems to have been a budget that pleased some and not others, doesn’t it?

If you look at general reaction to the announcement by Phil Hammond on 29th October, you can find predictable statements of support and opposition from the usual suspects – particularly relating to income tax and where budget should be spent, but what about the industry bodies representing the UK’s renewable sector and the broader environment?

I’ve looked through press releases and statements from a number of organisations including the UK Green Building Council, Renewable Energy Association, Friends of the Earth, ESA – Environmental Services Association, Unicef, Greenpeace  and The Woodland Trust' – and the general consensus is that the Chancellor's speech forgot one of the most important and pressing subjects – Climate Change.

UKGBC

Julie Hirigoyen, chief executive at UKGBC led a rallying call to business to play their part now:

“Three weeks after the IPCC’s landmark report highlighted the urgent need to tackle climate change and the subsequent ambitions announced by the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth, this budget is notable by the absence of any substantial clean growth measures.

“In the absence of leadership on clean growth in today’s Budget, it is now more important than ever that businesses show real leadership in reducing emissions. The construction and property industry has a huge part to play; we urgently need to begin decarbonising our buildings on a path to net zero emissions.”

To help achieve this, UKGBC is driving it’s Advancing Net Zero project, which is garnering cross-industry support for progressing action on net zero carbon buildings.

Julie also voiced concern about a number of important policies that have been hit, such as the scrapping of Enhanced Capital Allowances, which will make it harder for companies to invest in energy efficiency improvements.

“All of this is at odds with the scale of the climate challenge and the urgency with which it needs to be tackled.”

Friends of the Earth

Friends of the Earth gave an overall rating of ‘Fail’ to the Chancellors Budget explaining that whilst he had set aside ‘some’ money for tree planting and was planning to introduce a tax on virgin plastic packaging, he had also continued the freeze on fuel duty, earmarked £30bn for road building, will continue tax breaks for North Sea oil and gas, and refuses to introduce a tax on single-use plastics.

“World scientists warn we are hurtling towards runaway climate chaos, yet the Chancellor has kept oil and gas tax breaks, boosted road-building and frozen fuel duty. Astonishing,” explains Liz Hutchins, director of campaigns at Friends of the Earth.

The Renewable Energy Association

The REA expressed frustrated concern over the lack of support for the renewable energy industry in this Autumn Budget, claiming that the Chancellor had missed the opportunity for the Government to show their support to the renewable energy deployment and clean growth

James Court, Policy and External Affairs Director at the Renewable Energy Association said:

“It is frustrating that another Budget comes and goes, yet the opportunity for the UK to be a genuine leader in crucial future technologies slips by. There is huge support for renewables across the country, parliament, and even within government, yet the Treasury continues to stymie the potential growth in this sector.

“Next to nothing in this budget will help build clean energy infrastructure we so desperately need, and in parts actively harms the industry. Carbon Prices frozen, tax allowances for energy products scrapped, and a continued block to market for the cheapest forms of electricity.”

The REA did welcome the Government’s plans to introduce a tax on the production and import of plastic as well as the £20 million pledged to reducing plastic waste and boosting recycling, although overall, the REA is disappointed with the withdrawal of the Enhanced Capital Allowance (ECA) for technologies on the Energy Technology List and Water Technology List from April 2020 to be channelled into an ‘Industry Energy Transformation Fund’. This is a further missed opportunity for the Government to show their support for the industry.

ESA – Environmental Services Association

As the voice for the UK’s resource and waste management industry , the Environmental Services Association (ESA), welcomed announcements in the Budget to tax plastic packaging that contains less than 30% recycled content.

ESA’s Executive Director, Jacob Hayler said: “The industry has long been calling for measures to support end markets for recycling. Today the Chancellor has listened, and we welcome proposals to introduce a new tax on plastic packaging that contains less than 30% recycled content. Without stimulating the demand for recycled material, higher recycling rates will be unachievable.

“We are pleased that the Treasury has recognised that this is the most effective way to ensure the right incentives are in place for recycling, rather than to penalise Energy from Waste.

Unicef

Director of advocacy for Unicef Amy Gibbs felt that the budget was a wasted opportunity to address the key issues impacting children’s rights to survive and thrive in the UK. In particular, Unicef felt that more should have been done to help tackle air pollution:

"While Unicef UK considers the additional £20m for local authorities to tackle air pollution a step forward, it is insufficient to address the scale of the problem and damage being done to our children’s health. One in three children in the UK live in an area with dangerous levels of toxic air and they are being disproportionately affected when travelling to or at school.”

Greenpeace

Greenpeace was quiet scathing on its Twitter feed (@GreenpeaceUK) stating: “Three weeks since the world’s leading climate scientists said government have just 12 years to turn the tide on the catastrophic and irreversible consequences of climate change and the Chancellor has delivered a budget that reads as though he missed the memo.

"There might be a few decent steps on tackling plastic pollution and planting more trees, but beyond that, Government looks set to fail on an epic scale.

-        Continued block on onshore wind and uncertainty for solar

-        Ongoing failure in making our homes and economy more energy efficient

-        Fuel duty freeze + £££bns more on road-building – making public transport relatively more expensive, rather than investing in more cycle & bus networks and railways.

-        Tax breaks for North Sea oil & gas + ongoing obsession with fracking – when most new fossil fuels need to stay in the ground."

In a tweet Greenpeace UK Chief Scientist, Doug Parr (@Doug_Parr) wrote:
“So very crude, but here’s the word count on #Budget2018 red book to see how much time Treasury spends on them: renewables=0; solar=0; wind=0; tidal=0; coal=1; oil=9; gas=12; nuclear fusion (!)=5”

The Woodland Trust

The Woodland Trust's director of conservation Abi Bunker gave a cautious welcome to the announcement of £10m for tree-planting and £50m in carbon credits for woodland-planting landowners, but felt it is only a step in the right direction to re-green our deforested country and tackle our climate change crisis. The problem is greater than just having the funds to deliver increased tree planting.

"As well as more money we need clarity about how land use will be supported post-Brexit, regulations that are easier to understand, more accessible grants schemes and a better connection between those creating woodland and the wider societal benefits."

In summary

A tweet from Green MP, Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) seemed to sum up the general feeling amongst the environmental lobby, when she wrote:
“Cars £9bn; Roads £30bn; Mentions of climate change 0; This was a truly disastrous budget for the planet.”

For me though, I think Dan Caesar of the Fully Charged Show points to the solution needed when he posted on his @FullyChargedDan Twitter page:
"Always, always, always tackle the root cause and that means ‘stop burning stuff!’"

Whilst all of these people and bodies have jumped on the omission of any reference to climate change, which does not seem to be particularly prominent in this Budget, not many have mentioned the other huge shadow hanging over it – the elephant in the room that is Brexit.

In fact there is already speculation that with this budget, Philip Hammond has one eye on a possible general election should any Brexit deal be rejected by Parliament.

According to the Daily Express, ITV’s Robert Peston is reported as predicting this budget as the start of a giveaway bonanza from the conservatives as they seek to win a potential general election.

Well, that would of course add to the complexity of any Brexit negotiations and therefore any response from the country to the urgent need to tackle climate change wouldn’t it?

Martin Fahey is Head of Sustainability at Mitsubishi Electric Living Environmental Systems UK and coordinator of the company’s Green Gateway programme.