Described by some as the Coalition’s “last big economic event” before the 2015 election, what turned out to be the major talking point on the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement from an energy and climate change perspective was just how little there was to talk about. This was typified by sustainable business website Edie’s summary of the main points.
In terms of big green announcements, climate change adaptation rather than tackling carbon emissions was the main talking point, with George Osborne pledging to increase flood defence spending. Elsewhere, the long expected sovereign wealth fund for fracking was confirmed, funding was allocated for a nationwide road building programme and more than £400 million in North Sea oil tax cuts were announced. The suggestion of continued spending cuts cast a degree of doubt over stability in renewable subsidies. Although the latter can only be speculation at this point, the rest are hardly a set of stories to inspire joy among green groups.
The announcement of the UK’s first tidal lagoon energy project was the sole renewables policy to be introduced. Perhaps the biggest news from an energy efficiency perspective was the announcement of £25 million of grants to support first time heating systems in off gas grid homes. It’s fair to say the reaction from the sustainability sector has been muted at best. David Powell of Friends of the Earth tweeted that there were 55 mentions of the word “business” in the statement, over seven for mentions of “climate change”. Meanwhile, a Greenpeace spokesperson said:
“In what looks like the warmest year on record, George Osborne has strikingly failed to shield the UK economy from climate change and grasp the opportunities of a modern clean-tech economy.”
Commenting on the relaxing of road and air travel regulations, Caroline Lucas MP for Brighton Pavilion's response was said: "instead of scrapping air passenger duty for children, the Chancellor should be protecting children with urgent action on climate change". But Secretary of State Ed Davey has hit back.
Citing funding for fuel poverty and the potential of tidal power, he argues: “Liberal Democrat Ministers have delivered green policies galore in this government, but the Autumn Statement proves we’re not done yet.”
At EST, our work with local authorities, business and communities clearly shows that there is a push towards cutting carbon and reducing bills,especially at local level. So while there may be political quietness about sustainability and carbon reduction in favour of issues such as jobs and growth, our work proves that investment in making our homes more efficient can indeed lead to more jobs as demonstrated by the Ready for Retrofit project. And as the CBI’s John Cridland said, no major new announcements might benefit the green business sector by encouraging “policy stability”. In this case, no news might actually be good news.