Spring Statement 2019: Government introduces climate change initiatives

Spring Statement 2019: Government introduces climate change initiatives

The HM Treasury has announced that the government is introducing a series of initiatives to tackle climate change and deliver clean growth, preserving the planet for future generations. Mel Evans, senior campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said that the reality of the statement was ‘a very mixed bag’ and shows the Treasury is ‘failing to truly get to grips with the greatest challenges of our time’. Tim Pugh, solicitor and consultant specialising in infrastructure planning and environment, and Jayne Harrold, PwC’s UK environmental tax leader, also comment on the issue.

The initiatives include:

  • a new global review, to be completed in 2020, led by Prof Sir Partha Dasgupta, to assess the economic value of biodiversity and to identify actions that will simultaneously enhance biodiversity and deliver economic prosperity
  • a future homes standard, to be introduced by 2025, future-proofing new build homes with low carbon heating and world-leading levels of energy efficiency
  • accelerating the decarbonisation of the UK’s gas supplies by increasing the proportion of green gas in the grid

To this end, in 2019, the government will publish:

  • biodiversity and conservation in overseas territories—a call for evidence inviting creative ideas from stakeholders on how the government can safeguard the biodiversity found in the overseas territories
  • red diesel—response to call for evidence—a summary of responses to the May 2018 call for evidence on red diesel and air quality

‘Not bold enough’

Evans continued: ‘Unfortunately too much of what we’ve heard today, from plastic waste to climate change, isn’t new and isn’t bold enough. Tackling the climate emergency demands much bigger thinking. Issues like the shoddy state of our existing housing stock and rapid adoption of electric vehicles require serious money behind serious policies.

‘A good start would be banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030. Equally, when compared to ideas like frequent fliers paying more and more heavily for trips abroad, carbon offsetting transport falls very short. Paying lip service to action, and piecemeal measures are not an option. It’s time for strong words to be matched with strong action.’

Pugh points out:

'Interestingly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, allowing for the twin challenges presented by an ailing UK car industry and the current challenge in the High Court related to Heathrow and air quality, the Statement includes nothing specific concerning incentives, taxation or other fiscal measures aimed at reducing vehicle emissions. The proposals concerning biodiversity net gain were presaged in a DEFRA consultation before Christmas. They are potentially extremely important to developers of major infrastructure and housing schemes on sites which might previously have been sterilised by nature conservation interests. They will also provide potential post Brexit income schemes for owners of large tracts of land capable of being managed long term for biodiversity gains. This will be attractive to both farmers losing EU subsidies and major landholding utility companies.'

Harrold claims:

'The call for evidence on greening the gas grid is particularly welcome. There has been a growing market in green gas being injected into the grid for a number of years. The country is currently gas dependent so reducing the carbon impact of the gas grid is an effective way of reducing emissions using existing infrastructure. One way in which the Chancellor could help to tip the balance on the economics of green gas is to introduce a climate change levy exemption for green gas consumption, much like the old renewable electricity exemption which was withdrawn in 2015. Tax measures can be helpful in shifting the economics and promoting environmentally desirable outcomes, even if they are only needed to shift the market for a short term period.'

Source: Spring Statement 2019: Philip Hammond's speech

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