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Environment

Spring Statement: What environmental policies should be included?

There is no indication that the spring budget will include any long-term investment in tackling the climate crisis.

men installing solar panels on a house

Campaigners are pushing for measures towards renewable energy in the spring budget. (Image: Isle of Eigg/Flickr)

The issues we face surrounding fossil fuels, pollution and waste are increasingly difficult to ignore. As public awareness gathers pace, the government is under pressure from campaigners and politicians to address the climate crisis in the spring budget before life as we know it changes drastically.

Globally, we’re on our way to exceeding 1.5 degrees of warming and exceeding our remaining carbon budget well before the 2050 deadline to reach net zero emissions, as set out in the Paris Agreement.

In the UK, we are experiencing extreme weather conditions in the form of heatwaves and flooding as a result of climate change, and the country as a whole is one of the top emitting countries in the world.

In tomorrow’s (March 15) budget, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is expected to announce major tax cuts to tackle inflation, boosting the workforce with a “back to work” budget, as well as extensive help in tackling the cost of living and slashing energy bills. But there is no indication of any long-term investment in measures that will aid both the cost of living and the climate, nor any focus on a transition to greener energy or green jobs for the future.

While immediate action to reduce the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on households and people across the UK is needed, campaigners are calling for a look at the bigger picture when it comes to the climate – an issue that will affect us all.

Here are the things climate charities are pushing to be included in the spring budget.

Insulation retrofitting

This is not the first time the government has been urged to properly insulate homes across the UK in order to cut costs on energy bills and emissions. 

During the spring budget announcement in 2022, campaigners from 28 organisations called for then-Chancellor Rishi Sunak to improve the efficiency of Britain’s homes, while the Environment Audit Committee (EAC) said a “national war effort” for insulation is needed to fix the UK’s “leaky and draughty building stock”.

Poor insulation is a major contributor to high energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions as the heat produced is retained for a shorter period of time. 

The Local Government Association found that over £700 million a year is being wasted due to poorly insulated walls, roofs, and windows, leading poor households to pay an extra £250 a year on their energy bills.

In his autumn budget, Hunt promised £6 billion in funding to insulate homes and upgrade boilers from 2025 onwards but the EAC said that those experiencing “fuel poverty cannot afford three winters of delay” – and neither can the climate.

Mike Childs, head of policy at Friends of the Earth, told The Big Issue: “Action that simultaneously tackles the cost-of-living and climate crises must be at the heart of [this] budget. An extension of the energy bills support scheme alone is not enough for the millions of people living in poorly insulated homes and struggling with soaring bills. 

“With so many people being pushed into extreme levels of hardship, the government must not miss another opportunity to invest in the solutions that will bring down energy bills and emissions now and for the future,” he added.

Friends of the Earth are calling for the government to invest in “a street-by-street insulation programme” that begins in the neighbourhoods most in need. 

Windfall tax

Again, a windfall tax is not new or even groundbreaking – but many believe it is sorely needed. 

While Brits are struggling to heat their homes amid the cost-of-living crisis, oil and gas companies like BP, Shell, and British Gas owner Centrica, have announced record profits into the billions

As such, ministers and campaigners have long been calling for an increased windfall tax on oil companies to fund policies such as insulating homes, fitting energy-efficient heating systems, and renewable energy projects.

Though the government introduced the Energy Profits Levy last year, which takes 35 per cent of profits earned by oil and gas companies, many say this wasn’t enough.

Friends of the Earth said a “stronger, fairer windfall tax” would fund measures to “bring down bills for good”.

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Renewable energy

A recent report by former energy minister Chris Skidmore found the UK was “falling behind” in its approach to achieving net zero due to a lack of investment in renewable and decarbonised energy.

Currently, the UK relies heavily on fossil fuels for energy production, which has meant an increase in energy costs and no improvement in reducing emissions.

According to the National Grid, 44.1 per cent of electricity in the past year came from fossil fuels and only 34.5 per cent came from renewable sources such as solar, wind, hydro-electric, and biomass, which is produced by burning food, plants, and organic matter.

Investing in renewable energy will help to cut energy costs and improve the cost of living in the UK, and is considered by experts to be the most effective way of moving towards a net zero future.

Additionally, polling commissioned by climate charity Possible and conducted by Omnisis shows 58 per cent of people who are intending to vote Conservative at the next election want to see more investment in renewable energy to bring down the cost of bills.

Friends of the Earth argues that onshore and offshore renewables will “boost energy security” for the UK and ensure that the country’s gas and electricity pricing will not be at the whim of volatile global markets. 

Friends of the Earth said: “The government must lift barriers to onshore wind, speed-up the development of offshore wind, while maintaining environmental safeguards, and provide additional financial support to major offshore projects that may be abandoned due to the impact of inflation.”

Green Alliance agreed, stating that Hunt should provide “more generous tax incentives” for renewable energy and green projects, similarly to the tax allowances for fossil fuel projects.

wind turbine renewable energy
Rampion offshore wind farm. (Image: Nicholas Doherty/Unsplash)

Green jobs

A majority of the public want the government to help fossil fuel workers to transition into green jobs as the world moves towards renewable energy and net zero.

But, as of September 2022, the government had no agreed definition of what green jobs meant despite launching a “green jobs task force” in 2020. 

In addition to the launch of the task force, the government previously set out a “10-point plan for a green industrial revolution” in which it promised to support two million green jobs by 2030.

In May 2022, then-Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng said that 68,000 green jobs across the economy had “already been created and supported or are in the pipeline” but data previously obtained by The Big Issue showed that nearly 6,000 of those jobs were from schemes or projects that had already been scrapped and many more would not be created until at least 2029.

Though Hunt’s spring budget is being dubbed the “back-to-work budget” and will lay out plans to “plug the skills gaps” and address the dwindling number of Brits currently in work, the plans are not expected to include any mention of investments in developing green jobs for the future.

Childs said: “With Europe and the US introducing policies to boost green growth, the government must ensure the UK doesn’t lose out on the economic growth and jobs potential that a zero-carbon economy could bring. Backing green energy and energy efficiency is not only good for the climate, but essential to our future prosperity.”

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) agreed, stating that the government’s “unwillingness to invest and use industrial strategy to deliver net zero” will lead to the UK being “left behind” in the global race towards solving the climate crisis.

Luke Murphy, associate director for the energy, climate, housing and infrastructure team at IPPR, told The Big Issue that “the UK government appears to have its fingers in its ears”, comparing policies in the US and the EU to grow clean energy and create green jobs to the lack thereof in the UK.

The IPPR estimates that the UK “needs to spend £30bn a year between now and 2030 to meet the scale of the crisis – a gap which the government has not come close to filling” and doesn’t appear to be in a rush to do so.

“If the government is serious about reaping the benefits of the transition and levelling up it should learn from Joe Biden, scale up public investment, and bring forward a serious strategy to build an economy that is prosperous, fair, and green,” Murphy added.

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Transport infrastructure

Investment in public transport services to make them more accessible and affordable to people, as well as introducing safer cycle lanes and other methods of transport that don’t rely on petrol-burning vehicles is another major concern for climate campaigners.

Friends of the Earth say that bus services across the country are “at risk of being lost because of a lack of funding”. In fact, bus services have been cut across England by at least 14 per cent since 2016, and hundreds more routes could disappear in the future if funding is not guaranteed by the government.

Transport contributes 24 per cent of the UK’s total emissions in 2020, with the majority coming from road vehicles such as cars. Not only are cars quashing the UK’s efforts to reach net zero, they are also exacerbating air pollution levels in many areas. 

Nearly one-quarter of people in the UK currently live in areas with unsafe levels of air pollution and as many as 36,000 premature deaths each year in the UK can be linked to air pollution, according to research from 2018.

Hirra Khan Adeogun, head of car-free cities at climate charity Possible, previously told the Big Issue that top-down policy changes are needed to give people “infrastructure” as well as “getting people back on buses, providing protected cycleways, and ensuring public transport is affordable”.

She added: “Over decades we have decided to prioritise cars and if we move away from that towards a country that relies on public transport, walking, and cycling, it would revolutionise how we live.”

The Big Issue’s #BigFutures campaign is calling for investment in decent and affordable housing, ending the low wage economy, and millions of green jobs. The last 10 years of austerity and cuts to public services have failed to deliver better living standards for people in this country. Sign the open letter and demand a better future.

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