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Budget does little to meet UK’s net zero carbon goals, say campaigners

Budget does little to meet UK’s net zero carbon goals, say campaigners

The government’s latest budget will do little to meet the UK’s net zero carbon goals, missed opportunities to create a green economy, and would saddle households with high energy bills driven by fossil fuel prices, green campaigners and experts have said.

Jeremy Hunt, chancellor of the exchequer, was a self-styled “green Tory” as a backbencher, and in his speech gave a nod towards the UK’s green ambitions with a boost for nuclear power and for carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.

But missing from the budget was any hint of the hoped-for focus on home insulation, any strengthening of the windfall tax on record oil and gas profits, or removal of the barriers to onshore windfarms.

Instead, the continuing freeze on fuel duty will benefit drivers of fuel-guzzling SUVs, and would leave the UK on the starting blocks while other countries – including the US, the EU and China – are racing ahead in creating green jobs, analysts said.

Luke Murphy, associate director for energy and climate at the IPPR thinktank, said: “There is a global race to the top in reaching net zero, and the UK now risks falling seriously behind our competitors. The government needs to learn the lessons from the US and Europe, ramp up public investment, and bring forward a green industrial strategy, safeguarding our economy and environment for the future.”

Hunt repeated his mantra of four Es for the UK’s future investment – enterprise, education, employment and everywhere. Josh Burke, senior policy fellow at the Grantham Research Institute, part of the London School of Economics, said: “This budget has failed to deliver a long-term, economy-wide investment plan to accelerate the transition to sustainable and resilient growth. The two Es missing from the industrial strategy are the environment and energy.”

Ami McCarthy, political campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said the focus on small nuclear plants, called small modular reactors, and CCS, both early-stage technologies, missed out far more realistic opportunities to pursue low-carbon power.

“This misguided budget shows the stranglehold fossil fuel and nuclear lobbies have on this government. Why else would it take such a dangerous gamble on unproven technologies?” she asked. “Squandering taxpayers’ money on nuclear reactors that don’t even exist yet and fanciful carbon capture is irresponsible, and does nothing to reduce our emissions now.”

Hunt announced no new spending on home insulation, and did not bring forward spending on energy efficiency allocated for 2025, despite clear research showing that insulation can keep people’s homes warmer amid high energy bills, and calls from the government’s own statutory climate adviser, the Climate Change Committee, to prioritise insulation.

Ross Matthewman, head of policy and campaigns at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, said: “We are disappointed that the chancellor appears to be taking his foot off the pedal. By failing to bring forward planned spending on energy efficiency measures, he has missed a golden opportunity to both reduce energy bills and decarbonise the housing sector.”

Transport policy was another missed opportunity, added Alfie Stirling, director of research and chief economist at the New Economics Foundation. Drivers of larger cars are the biggest winners from the continuing freeze on fuel duty, while people on lower incomes are more likely to use lower-carbon public transport.

“The government is continuing to subsidise polluting travel and disproportionately benefiting higher earners, with the 13th freeze on fuel duty in a row,” said Stirling.

After the budget announcement, the energy secretary, Grant Shapps, told MPs he was “busting a gut” to get solar power on rooftops, including those of large buildings such as warehouses. He told the environmental audit committee he was working to remove the requirement for planning permission for solar installations above 1MW, which was inhibiting installations on the roofs of commercial buildings.

But he indicated he would not mandate solar power on the rooftops of new houses, as some MPs urged him to do. He said the government would require, in its forthcoming future homes standard, that new homes must produce 75% less carbon dioxide than homes built in 2013, but that ministers would leave up to housebuilders how this was achieved, because mandating particular technologies would “reduce innovation”, he claimed. “There is more than one way to skin a cat,” he told MPs. “The hesitation is over saying ‘this is the only thing you can put in’.”

Shapps also promised a far greater green push to come, after the budget. The government is obliged by a high court ruling last year to publish by the end of this month clear plans on how to reach the net zero target. A response to the review of the net zero target by Chris Skidmore, published early this year, will come out at the same time.

The announcement, due in a fortnight, will contain plans to boost hydrogen, wind power, solar energy and heat pumps, according to Shapps. “There will be much more I can say then,” he told MPs.

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