On a day when the Financial Times leads with a Climate Change story on an Arctic November heatwave, one might have hoped for a political response commensurate with the scale of the threat. The autumn statement delivered by Chancellor Philip Hammond did not provide that but it was very different from the kind of statements we have become used to.
Last week the Environmental Audit Committee released a new report on the Treasury’s record on the environment. They were concerned about the Treasury’s tendency to make unilateral decisions that affect the environment without appropriate scrutiny or transparency. In addition they called for more action on climate change to match the commitment established through the UK Government’s ratification of the Paris climate agreement.
2015 Climate March (credit Nick Cunard rspb-images.com)
As a contribution to the debate, the RSPB co-authored a Green Alliance report asking the Treasury to take action (on heating, transport and power) to develop a low carbon economy and stimulate environmentally sustainable growth.
What we saw from the new Chancellor was an open and honest appraisal of where the country is economically, the challenges faced and how he hopes to deal with them. Brexit has clearly created a great deal of uncertainty and along with low productivity the UK’s tax receipts are not as healthy as they might be for the fastest growing developed economy.
Philip Hammond’s emphasis on infrastructure and research could be a much needed spur if directed at low carbon development in the right place ie away from sensitive wildlife sites and if there is genuine recognition of the value of green infrastructure to people. Money for Ultra Low Emissions Vehicles development is a step in the right direction. The Carbon Floor Price, thought to be on the chopping block, was instead frozen. However the Levy Control Framework (LCF), which supports low carbon energy development, still has an uncertain future.
The statement said that a decision on the LCF beyond 2020 will come in spring. What's more, I hope and expect that Defra officials, as they scope the 25 year environment plan, are working shoulder to shoulder with Treasury officials to come up with a tangible plan to resource the ambition to restore biodiversity in a generation.
We heard today that this is to be the last of the autumn statements. In future there will be just one major intervention a year designed to provide more stability for business. So, in that spirit we will look to spring for the new Chancellor to make his mark – to demonstrate how he will drive a low carbon economy and invest in the nation's natural capital.
The big mistake is to see a greener economy and resourcing biodiversity as two separate things (a conservation sector problem) - and to see a greener economy as necessarily a cost ( a Government mistake). The Natural Capital Committee has calculated that 250,000 has of 'community woodland' around our towns and cities could benefit the economy by £500m/ pa - and although they call it 'community woodland' it should be read as 'green space open to people' - and hugely successful places like Rainham Marshes are the examples already in place and working of what we could achieve on a much larger scale. It looks good even before you start adding in additional benefits - wetland, woodland wet meadows checking the ever increasing flooding, reedbeds soaking up and cleaning grey water, creating habitat at the same time as saving the energy of treatment plants.
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