Prior to becoming Chancellor, George Osborne said the Treasury should put a fair and predictable price on environmental externalities - that means taking account of the harmful impacts of industries, such as pollution, resource depletion etc..  Well, the RSPB provided him with an excellent opportunity to do so – introduce a peat levy.  What a shame he’s failed to use this Budget as an opportunity to introduce a fiscal measure which would have supported the government’s objectives to phase peat use out of horticulture. In terms of carbon alone, UK peat consumption imposes an external cost of £32.5m. Add in the biodiversity loss and that’s a pretty sizeable externality (as the economists say) or a lot of harm (as you and I might say).

Our call for a levy on peat-based growing media, offering incentives for gardeners and the horticulture industry to switch to peat alternatives, is backed by many of the 'greener' members of the industry and a range of NGOs.  It could alleviate damage done by peat extraction, stimulate economic growth in the green alternatives' market, reduce waste and raise much-needed revenue for nature conservation.  It’s too good an idea to give up on, so we won’t be.

But with the voluntary approach having failed for years and no fiscal measure introduced now, is it time to go back to the least-liked measure - regulation?  If pleading hasan't worked and fiscal tinkering isn't tried what about a cheap, effective ban?  Or if not, then what have George Osborne, Chris Huhne and Caroline Spelman got up their sleeves?  Please let us know what your strategy is for eliminating peat's 'externalities'.  Is this 'greenest government ever' still committed to doing something about peat?

The absence of new green measures and back-tracking on existing initiatives is further compounded by the removal of successful existing projects such as the ALSF.  The Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund represents huge value for money. The evidence indicates the Fund enables substantial gains for biodiversity, the reduction of CO2 emissions within the sector, and could continue to deliver significant environmental gains at low cost in the future.

These are, of course, very difficult times. Weak growth and inflation are not helping deficit reduction. Public spending is now set to fall faster than at any time since post-war demobilisation. Many austerity measures kick in this April and the squeeze on public services, from capital spending, local authorities, agencies and central departments will be severe and prolonged.  It’s easy to see why the Chancellor is tempted to make motoring and holiday flights that bit cheaper to lighten the gloom a little. Until our politicians realise that our environment underpins our economy and is core to our well-being, it seems they will continue to sacrifice long term well-being of our planet for what is politically expedient today.

In the same speech George Osborne went on to say ‘If I become Chancellor, the Treasury will become a green ally, not a foe.’   Well, with allies like this, we can’t afford too many foes.

 

Anonymous
  • "Actions speak louder than words". On this basis the budget was deafeningly silent as far as help for the environment is concerned. In his "dash for growth budget" Mr Osborne also seems to have forgotten about the "polluter pays principle" so natural peat extraction. the destruction of peat lands and more CO2 emissions will carry on regardless. Why do politicians become so short sighted once they move into office?

  • As always at budget time it is the effects you find out about in the longer term.   Petrol went down 1p a litre last night.  How much has it gone down in my town - nothing.     Will large companies swallow tax rises, I somehow suspect not.  

    But the one area that I have concerns about for charities is a possible unintended effect of the inheritance tax announcement.  The RSPB among all the rest rely on multiple supporters of small amounts of money and also the willingness of the wealthier to support one off campaigns such as the large fundraising undertaken for the south atlantic fishing by-catch problem.  If I had a large disposable amount of cash (and I haven't) would I hand it over now or would I leave it in my will so that my family benefits from an equivalent amount of tax reduction.  

  • We have lost all our 'Nightjars' due to mis management of our 'raised bogs'. 20 folk lost their jobs on one of them and in their place Natural England are trying to grow 'Sphagnum'. Fortunately the birds are fighting back adding mass amounts of nitrates onto the peat. No visiting facilities were created hence no income returned to the community which lost their jobs. A great opportunity was lost to bring back the community's involvement into the bog as well as creating 'green' tourism.

  • There's a very simple answer to your question: the dose of reality this Government has had since it took office has, like so many times before, pushed the environment right to the bottom of the agenda - other than the forests, and that wasn't something they'd bargained for.

    There are glimmers - if unintentional - and Chris Huhne increasingly comes out as the green champion. The Renewable Heat Incentive has the potential to transform woodland management, bringing some of our 500,000 ha of unmanaged woodland back into management and potentially reversing the decline in Nightingales, Dormice and woodland butterflies - like the Heath Fritillaries that RSPB & Butterfly Conservation are doing such a greta job for in the Blean. I support Chris, too, on limiting big solar - what most people haven't latched onto is that we're paying 40p/kw for solar - fine for getting householders involved, but not for industrial scale schemes - and just 7.6p for heat from wood, at which price biomass will pay. A bit more for diversity, fine, but over 4 times as much ?

    As for the peat, I was in the Somerset Levels today and the destruction really is shocking - literally mountains of carbon stacked ready to go back into the atmosphere.

  • Bit too heavy for me Mark but had to smile at last line as thought farmers might think to quote more or less "well with allies like RSPB we cannot afford too many foes",must be time to build bridges even if big differences between the top guys at both groups,my guess is that there are far fewer differences between the rank and file members on both sides whose moderate opinions get pushed to one side.

    Interesting as well I see that professor Bellamy says something along the lines that gamekeepers are great for wildlife and feel sure you would have the exact words at your fingertips,think he may have been giving a award to one?