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Posts Tagged ‘George Osborne’

During his Autumn Statement the Chancellor made explicitly clear where the environment sits in his list of priorities. There are just more important things to worry about right now: jobs, growth and deficits.  The tenor of his speech was confrontational and made no concession to the green growth and sustainability as championed by David Cameron when this Government came to power with the aim of being the greenest government ever.

The Chancellor’s message was clear: environmental regulation hinders UK Plc and now is not the time for worthy but costly causes. Of particular concern to those with a green hue was the sentence “We will make sure that gold plating of EU rules on things like habitats aren’t placing ridiculous costs on British businesses.”  This was a shot across the bow to environmental groups. They responded in kind. In a letter to the Observer RSPB, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Greenpeace, Wildlife Trusts and Friends of the Earth criticised the short-term mind-set of the Chancellor. Another letter signed by prominent green campaigners said this government was on course to be “the most environmentally destructive government to hold power in this country since the modern day environmental movement was born”.  No love lost here.

One day before the Autumn statement a report was released by the Aldersgate Group.   Pricing the Priceless – The business case for action on biodiversity presented the arguments that protecting biodiversity and ecosystem services (BES) is critical for future well being and economic development.  The report had five main findings, each undermining the assertions made by the Chancellor:

  1. Future economic prosperity depends on BES
  2. BES must be brought into the decision making process
  3. Certain thresholds are irreversible
  4. Environmental regulation is an opportunity not a threat
  5. Loss of BES is a business risk.

The findings and recommendations of this report are not new. This document adds to the growing library that emphasises the importance of ecosystems and biodiversity to economies and business, see TEEB, the Natural Environment White Paper, The National Ecosystem Assessment for instance.

Moreover, a week before the Chancellor’s statement, the Ecosystems Markets Task Force launched. A business led government supported independent group looking at how to improve both the environment and the bottom line. This work further contradicts the sentiments and ideas expressed by the Chancellor.

Why are these reports, initiatives and their findings not making their way into the Treasury? Is the Chancellor on the wrong side of economic thought and momentum? Or are these reports only making headway within the circles that want to hear them? Why is the government supporting and recognising the importance of ecosystems on one hand and ignoring them on the other?

I expect answers to such questions require delving deep into the institutional makeup and spheres of influence within British politics.

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The long-awaited spending review was announced today. Here are some quick notes and thoughts from the pasture on how it impacts green spending:

  • After hearing not a lot about it over the past few months, the commitment of £1 billion to fund the Green Investment Bank was a welcome surprise. You may remember that we’ve written about it before amidst worries that the Bank would be shelved.  While it is not the £1.5 billion that Alistair Darling set aside for it, the Chancellor added that he hoped that private investors would add to the funds.
  • We are not entirely sure what to make of the £1bn investment in carbon capture and storage technology and £200m on wind farms. Choosing which technology to invest in is always a gamble but the current government seems to have put its money on CCS. Can the investment be more effectively spent by broadening it to any green technologies?
  • News that the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC)’s spending is to be cut 5% each year comes as both a relief and a worry. There were fears that cuts would be much deeper but 5% is still a worry, totalling up to 20% by 2014. Interestingly, DECC is labour leader Ed Miliband’s old department.
  • Correspondingly, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will be seeing cuts to funding of 8% per year, or nearly a 1/3rd by 2014. Earlier news reports revealed that Natural England and the Environment Agency, both Defra quangos, will see ‘substantial reform’ and budget cuts.

Daisy’s write-up of the Tory manifesto during the general election furore will give you a quick refresher about what they promised with regards to the environment. It all seems on par at the moment, although we hope that they have a plan for the 80% cuts in carbon emissions post DECC and Defra cuts.

More to come this week:

A more in-depth review of the impact of spending cuts to the environment

Arts cuts – Are we cutting more than we can afford?

In the meantime, read more:

Spending Review: Osborne wields axe – BBC Live

Spending Review – The detailed report – Directgov

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I went and chewed the cud with Britain’s top business herd (the Confederation of British Industry) last night, and witnessed the new Chancellor’s first major speech since taking office. He took the chance to make some expected attacks on the previous Government, but also announced some pointers for his emergency budget on 22nd June. Among these is the commitment to raise the threshold for paying income tax, a clear sign of the Lib-Dems’ influence on the coalition’s plans.

Osborne also tried to put down a strapline ‘Britain is open for business’. He is trying to capture his intentions to introduce more business- and investment- friendly policies (e.g. on corporation tax), but the audience may have felt a little confused because they weren’t aware we had shut.

The evening moved on to an after-dinner speech from Dame Ellen MacArthur, of global solo-yachting fame. She rightly gets respect for an incredible record, but having achieved her childhood dreams, she has found a new focus in life: sustainable development, or as she nicely phrased it ‘building a ship that sails forever’. This is probably not the traditional message for Britain’s business community, but it was refreshing to hear from such an inspiring source.

MacArthur’s views highlighted the lack of mention of the environment and resource use in the Chancellor’s speech – these topics still seem a long way down his priorities. So while he may be trying to reopen Britain for business, we should ask: ‘what sort of business?’ If it is business that seeks to make sustainable use of the environment, then I would wish the coalition a safe voyage.

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