The chancellor Rishi Sunak was accused of extending the fossil fuel age with his budget today.
Less than a week before the start of international climate talks in Glasgow, environmental groups and politicians described the 2021 spending review as “shockingly bad” and “shameful”. It would, they said, increase carbon emissions, at a time when tackling climate change should have been the centrepiece.
The text of the speech as delivered by Mr Sunak had no reference to climate or nature and just one to the COP26 summit. The only reference to environment was about safer drinking.
In a measure that appeared to run counter to the government’s climate agenda, the chancellor cut air passenger duty for internal domestic flights. This was despite being criticised yesterday by its advisor, the Climate Change Committee, for having no explicit ambition on reducing the growth of aviation.
Mr Sunak also committed £21bn for road spending and froze the increase in fuel duty, helping to make it cheaper to drive than use more environmentally-friendly forms of transport.
The Green Party’s MP, Caroline Lucas, tweeted “looks like chancellor didn’t get the memo on the climate emergency”:
“Over an hour on his feet & “climate” did not even pass the Chancellor’s lips. I am seething. Has he looked at the calendar? He’s going to be talking to fellow finance ministers at #cop26 – what is he going to say he’s doing on the #climateemergency? Utterly shameful #Budget2021.”
Mike Childs, head of policy at Friends of the Earth, said:
“With only days to go before Boris Johnson hosts crucial talks in Glasgow, this financial announcement was shockingly bad, and will do little to show his government recognises the enormity of the climate crisis we face.
“Fast-tracking the shift to a zero-carbon economy, with much greater investment in our homes, public transport and nature, should have been at the heart of Rishi Sunak’s plans. Instead climate change hardly featured.
“Despite the Chancellor’s window-dressing, his plans will simply prolong the UK’s dependency on fossil fuels and makes it far harder to seize the substantial job and export opportunities that climate leadership would bring.
“The Chancellor has let down young people and the poorest in society, who have done least to contribute to the climate emergency.”
“Cutting Air Passenger Duty on domestic flights is an astonishing move that completely flies in the face of the climate emergency. The chancellor should be making it cheaper for people to travel around the country by train, not carbon-guzzling planes.
“Air Passenger Duty for all flights should have been increased, or even better replaced with a frequent flyers levy, aimed at curbing multiple flights taken by a minority of people each year.
“As the Prime Minister prepares to host next week’s crucial climate summit, this retrograde step is another illustration that the government’s carbon reduction plans don’t add up.”
The policies on roads spending and freezing fuel duty were “incompatible with fighting climate breakdown”, he said. This investment should have been “targeted at making it easier for people to get around without driving”.
Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace UK, said:
“The climate emergency should have been the centrepiece of this spending review ahead of the most critical UK-hosted climate talks in years, but Sunak spent more time discussing duty on domestic cider.
“The Chancellor appears to have delivered just 5% of what’s needed to roll out green homes, clean transport, nature protection and support for workers to transition to green jobs, and is actively making things worse by making it cheaper to fly between UK cities.
“He’s missed the memo that an increase in green investment would not just lower carbon emissions and energy bills, but would also boost jobs and productivity, as well as the Government’s credibility at the climate talks.
“Each year proper funding for real climate action is delayed, the worse the climate crisis will get and the more costly it will become – both in monetary terms and for peoples’ lives.”
Luke Murphy, head of the Environmental Justice Commission at the Institute for Public Policy Research, said:
“Today the Chancellor declared the UK was entering an ‘age of optimism’ but instead he used the budget to extend the fossil fuel age.
“Cutting air passenger duty on domestic flights will increase emissions when we should be making train travel a more affordable option. Though increases in duty on long-haul flights are welcome, the cut to domestic duty sends an appalling signal ahead of COP26.
“Indeed, Rishi Sunak talked for longer about beer duty, than our duty to future generations to address the climate and nature crises.
“The truth is, this climate-void, fossil-fuel heavy budget failed to deliver the necessary £30 billion of investment needed each year to meet our climate and nature targets.
“This budget was an own goal for a government that should be leading the world, ahead of the all-important global climate summit COP26, into a new low carbon age.”
Ed Miliband, Labour’s shadow energy and climate secretary, tweeted:
“Another Budget from the Chancellor which failed on both the cost of living crisis and the climate crisis. No green recovery, no plan to save families £400 on bills, no plan for green steel.”
The UK Youth Climate Coalition tweeted:
UK government: “we’re setting ambitious targets to tackle climate change” Also UK government: “let’s make sure flying is cheaper than getting the train” Embarrassing to see 4 days before we host a global climate summit… Do better @RishiSunak
The Scottish Young Greens tweeted
Today, the Chancellor @RishiSunak announced another budget for bankers, frequent flyers and the mega-rich With COP26 coming to Glasgow in a few days time, we needed massive investment to tackle the climate crisis All we got was more disappointment and climate denial.