Greenpeace on the budget - "not green"
If climate change is great challenge of our time, as ministers regularly tell us, then why is the new money announced for renewables and energy efficiency only marginally more than the Chancellor found earlier this year for RBS bonuses? And while Mr Darling admittedly has urgent economic issues on his mind, surely he can see that concerted investment in renewable technologies, energy efficiency and green manufacturing are the best way to meet our joint climate and economic crises head-on.
Over in America the Obama administration (ever handy with a memorable quote) says it "won't let the economic crisis go to waste" and promises to reshape the US economy to tackle global warming. Mr Brown and co say it's their priority too, but are only prepared to put a fraction of the investment in - in relative terms just a fistful of pennies. Only yesterday Lord Stern estimated that £15 billion would be needed - Darling has allocated a figure closer to £1 billion. Hmmm...
To be fair it wasn't all bad news. Mr Darling confirmed that he's listened to his own advisers by committing Britain to cut CO2 emissions by 34 per cent by 2020 - the previous EU inspired figure was 20 per cent. And he had some positive announcements to make on energy and green investment:
- £525 million of new money over 2 years for offshore wind funded through the renewables obligation (plus £4 billion of EU loans via the European Investment Bank) - enough to meet the needs of around 3 million people, according to Mr Darling;
- £435 million extra support for energy efficiency in homes and businesses - nowhere near enough as the figure needs to be at least several billion, but still a positive step;
- energy produced by Combined Heat and Power (CHP) stations will be exempt from the Climate Change Levy (a surcharge on power produced from fossil fuels) until 2023, which gives producers an incentive to build more of these super energy efficient plants. Since half of our energy expenditure and nearly half our emissions come from heat use, greater use of CHP will improve both energy efficiency and energy security;
- £405m to advance green manufacturing projects - though it isn't yet clear precisely what this means, it could include support for nuclear power.
So on to the bad news - firstly coal. Although the Chancellor implicitly recognised that as an energy source unabated coal is bad for the climate, he announced between two and four new carbon capture and storage (CCS) demonstration projects would now be built (previously just one was planned, possibly for the new Kingsnorth site) - but there was no mention of any emissions control standard for coal, and without a control standard and regulations in place to force companies to use the new technology these few 400MW demonstration CCS plants will just be green window dressing.
Next, despite the positive announcements on wind investment, there are severe structural problems to solve before full advantage can be taken. Of course the new money is welcome, but money has only ever been only one block to a new North Sea energy bonanza. Over-complicated planning procedures and lack of easy access to the national grid are also it holding up - and nothing was heard about these issues.
Finally there was a classic government red herring - the £2,000 discount from next month on cars bought where the owner scraps another car more than 10 years old. Because it's applicable to any new car, not just energy efficient models, and as such is irrelevant at best. Which also applies to the recent announcement of new money for electric cars. It sounds good in principle, but as someone was quick to point out, unless the electricity comes from renewable sources we won't even get close to hitting our climate change targets. After all, if plug-in cars are charged up from coal power we're back to square one.
Finally, there was nothing at all about aviation. Not a peep, or even a sausage. Perhaps they think that if they stop talking about it, it will go away. Sorry, Alistair, not a chance, I'm afraid.
So - a genuinely green budget as Mr Darling claims? Well, not really - more of a mixed bag. At a time when we desperately needed a clear lead on the vexed issues of both climate and economy, it has to be said that as a total response to both the scale of this budget's ambition does not match the scale of the threat.