Science & Environment

Budget 2020: Mixed reaction on environmental issues

London Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Removing a tax break on red diesel for industrial vehicles could reduce air pollution, Mr Sunak says

The Budget has simultaneously pleased and infuriated environmentalists by promising long-awaited green measures whilst expanding roads and freezing fuel duty.

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, said he was shifting the UK towards a low-carbon economy with a host of measures.

He's removing the tax break on red diesel for industrial vehicles (except for agriculture and rail).

That, he said, would reduce air pollution in cities.

And he'll reduce the tax on electricity - which comes increasingly from renewable sources of energy - while increasing tax on polluting gas.

Mr Sunak is also going to double research and development into energy research to £1bn.

But plans for the roads programme could be challenged in the courts for breaching the UK's laws on climate change.

BBC News revealed recently that the plans don't take into account commitments on reducing emissions.

Environmental groups recently scored a successful appeal against the Heathrow expansion scheme, which had failed to take climate policies into account.

There's been a welcome reception from the recycling industry for a new tax of £200 per tonne on plastic items containing less than 30% recycled plastic.

'Game changer'

Richard Kirkman, from the recycling firm Veolia UK, said: "This is a game changer. This has set in motion a new phase of investment into the circular economy."

As part of today's Budget, the Chancellor has also re-iterated his pledge to double spending on flood defences, committing a further £5.2bn to protect more than 300,000 homes over the next six years.

Emma Howard Boyd, chair of the Environment Agency, said: "This is hugely significant. As the climate emergency increases flood risk, this funding will allow us to invest in infrastructure and nature-based solutions so that otherwise vulnerable communities can both have better protection against flooding and be more resilient when it happens."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Chancellor re-iterated his pledge to double spending on flood defences

The Chancellor has also boosted the preservation of peat bogs and woodlands by confirming £640m for a new Nature for Climate Fund.

And there is a commitment to plant 30,000 hectares of trees over five years - that's a forest larger than Birmingham.

Two carbon capture clusters will be funded for up to £800m in the north of England and possibly Scotland, and the Chancellor confirmed a £500m scheme for rapid-charging hubs for electric cars.

But green campaigners say Mr Sunak's road building programme is totally at odds with measures to protect the climate because it will induce more traffic on to the roads.

And they say he shouldn't have ended the freeze on fuel duty for drivers, as recent analysis suggests it has increased vehicle emissions by around 5%.

Rebecca Newsom from Greenpeace commented: "The Chancellor has completely missed the opportunity to address the climate emergency. He's driving in the opposite direction."

Friends of the Earth's head of policy, Mike Childs, said: "This Budget contains a massive road-building programme which completely destroys any pretence of UK government leadership ahead of this years' crucial climate summit.

"Funding for cleaner cars, EV [electric vehicle] charging, action on plastics and more trees are just a few green sprinklings on a truly awful budget."

For a Budget promising to prioritise climate change, there is one notable absentee policy - insulating Britain's 40 million homes so they don't waste energy.

The Chancellor has been condemned for pushing off this issue until the Treasury's review of net zero emissions policy - due in November.

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