Darling's budget: green shoots but only a little green growth

Posted by jossc — 25 March 2010 at 4:06pm - Comments

The chancellor promises £1bn for clean energy projects, but much more will be needed

Although heavily trailed by the chancellor’s supporters as an environmental budget, in the end it turned out to be a lot less than a comprehensive green win.

Despite Mr Darling’s assurances that he gets the need for tougher carbon reduction targets, he backed away from raising fuel duty and found more money for motorways under pressure from road lobbyists.

"The nuclear industry has had 50 years to prove its worth, and has never delivered on time or on budget."
John Sauven, Director, Greenpeace UK

There were some positives, though, chief among them being the creation of a new green infrastructure bank with £1bn to fund clean energy projects. Clean energy is set to be the growth industry of the 21st Century, and this bank can help ensure that Britain receives the benefits in terms of jobs, investment and energy security.

Which sounds great, but as our director John Sauven points out, the chancellor needs to make clear that "the government is committed to clean energy for the long term. Companies must know that high carbon projects like a third runway at Heathrow and conventional coal fired power stations have no future in this country."

To make this happen the bank needs consistent year on year funding, not just a one off lump sum, and to focus on cutting-edge renewable technologies rather than outdated, expensive nuclear power.

Another positive step was the announcement of a £60m competition to build a new deep water port to service the specialised needs of the offshore wind industry. This announcement produced an immediate reaction from American manufacturing giant GE, which today announced its intention to invest 110m euros in a new UK manufacturing centre to build components for offshore wind turbines - creating nearly 2,000 jobs by 2020.

This shows that with the right incentives from the government Britain could be in pole position to benefit economically as well as in tackling climate change. 

Given the serious nature of both our economic situation and the urgent need to fight climate change, though, Mr Darling remained conspicuously silent on one area which many see as an easy and popular target for cuts: our nuclear weapons programme.

While all other areas of the defence budget are being prepared for severe cuts, Trident and two massive new aircraft carriers are protected even from proper scrutiny. Military chiefs say the projects are out of date and unsuited to the challenges we face, but ministers remain wedded to them at any cost. We could save around £130bn just by scrapping these two projects alone, but the issue remains an inexplicable taboo.

Indeed Greenpeace has located £32bn of cuts that could be made over the next parliament that would be beneficial for the environment.

Overall, this budget shows that some good thinking is now going on in government on the need to deliver renewable energy. But the fact remains that we are not moving either far or fast enough. We're still not putting enough money into cost-effective measures to make our buildings energy efficient, and we've so far failed to really confront tax policies which hinder the development environmentally responsible transport.

Above all we are is still wasting far too much on things we could do without.

About Joss

Bass player and backing vox in the four piece beat combo that is the UK Greenpeace Web Experience. In my 6 years here I've worked on almost every campaign and been fascinated by them all to varying degrees. Just now I'm working on Peace and Oceans - which means getting rid of our Trident nuclear weapons system and creating large marine reserves so that marine life can get some protection from overfishing.

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