In the current UK political climate, one of unprecedented upheaval, with Brexit creating political waves and international despots rising and falling, Philip Hammond must have approached the dispatch box to deliver the 2017 Budget with much to contemplate. Given the complex situation the government finds itself in, it was perhaps surprising that the contents of the famous red box turned out to be so green.
A raft of environmental policies were unveiled in yesterday’s budget that have the potential to improve sustainability in the UK. The most pertinent of which are discussed below.
Air quality in the UK is major issue causing 40,000 premature deaths a year, and occupying many more column inches in the national media. The government has been sued over this issue on three occasions, losing twice, with one case still ongoing. Time for action clearly. The first environmental action to spring forth from the red box was the announcement of a £220m Clean Air Fund, designed to provide support for the implementation of local air quality plans, such as the West Yorkshire Low Emissions Strategy (WYLES).
This £220 million Clean Air Fund is slated to be funded by an increase in tax for diesel cars. Diesel cars are one of the main contributors to the illegal level of air quality in and around the UK, so increasing the tax on such vehicles in a bid to fund Clean Air initiatives is a rare act of congruent thinking on behalf of the government.
The Chancellor proceeded to announce that, whilst diesel cars are to be penalised, Electric Cars are to be promoted. £400m is to be invested in creating a national network of electric vehicle charging points A further £100m is to be provided for a plug-in car grant and £40m is to be invested in research and development for the sector.
Conversely and seemingly rather counterintuitively, Mr. Hammond announced tax breaks for North Sea Oil & Gas. These tax breaks, in the words of the Chancellor are “an innovative tax policy that will encourage new entrants to bring fresh investment to a basing that still holds up to 20 billion barrels of oil”. It is nonsensical, though entirely unsurprising, for the government to claim in one breath that it will tackle air pollution and in the next explain how it will make it easier to obtain and utilise the very substances which are polluting the air. The rare act of congruent thinking explained above, now looks even rarer.
Away from the issues of air quality, the Chancellor highlights the scourge of plastic pollution as a key issue threatening sustainability. In similar vein to the 5p charge on single use plastic bags, Mr. Hammond issued a call for evidence in 2018 to support development of how a similar charge could be placed on single-use plastic packaging.
The 2017 budget was certainly greener than anticipated, and overall it appears to be forward thinking and of some benefit. However, it failed to mention a whole host of pressing green matters, such as; solar and wind power, the Feed-In Tariff and Renewable Heat Incentives and the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon.