Chancellor backtracks on green goals

14th October 2011


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George Osborne has signalled a watering-down of government climate change policy by ruling out unilaterally setting carbon emissions targets that other countries refuse to adopt.

He also accused environmental regulations of “piling costs on the energy bills of households and companies”, and argued that the government should not adopt green targets that damage the business sector.

“We’re not going to save the planet by putting our country out of business,” the chancellor said at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester. “So let’s, at the very least, resolve that we’re going to cut our carbon emissions no slower, but also no faster, than our fellow countries in Europe.”

Osborne claimed to have insisted that the UK’s commitment on emissions reductions would not outstrip the rest of the EU as part of the recent agreement to endorse the Committee on Climate Change’s fourth carbon budget, which commits the UK to halving emissions against 1990 levels by 2025.

The chancellor’s intervention is at odds with government policy. Under the Climate Change Act 2008, the government has a legal obligation to reduce emissions in line with the approved carbon budgets. The budgets to 2022 commit the UK to reducing emissions by 34% against 1990 levels, but the EU is pursuing only a 20% reduction by 2020.

His speech follows new analysis by environmental bodies of the government’s progress towards fulfilling its “greenest government” pledge. It finds that the government has made either moderate or no progress on 22 of its 29 low-carbon commitments.

It also claims there are clear indications that the Treasury and, to a lesser extent, the business department, have curbed, or attempted to curb, the coalition’s ambition on the low-carbon agenda.

The research, by an alliance of environmental groups, including the Green Alliance and WWF, concludes that seven commitments, such as reducing emissions from central government departments, have been delivered successfully or are achieving good progress. Six policies are ranked as failing, including support for green financial products, reform of aviation taxation and a shift to green taxation.

Progress on the remaining 16 policies is rated as moderate, but they risk ending up in the “failing” category without urgent intervention to speed up delivery and raise the level of ambition of the policy response, says the report.

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