Amidst all the weeping and gnashing of teeth coming from Westminster, Chancellor Hammond’s spring statement came and went from the headlines almost unnoticed. Among those who did give it more than a passing glance were the environmentalists, because for once there was something to see. For the benefit of those who missed it, here’s a quick summary of some new green measures that were announced last week.
It was easily missed in Hammond’s speech, if you didn’t listen to the end. There was the usual priapic boasting about the size of the economy to get through first. Then there was talk of a mysterious Brexit dividend. Then money for roads, and supercomputers, nuclear fusion and “new types of lasers.”
Finally, towards the end, came a section on “the challenge of shaping the carbon neutral economy of the future”, and to “build sustainability into the heart of our economic model.” Obviously I have questions about that can be achieved while also pursuing relentless growth, but putting my heterodox views aside for a moment, what did Hammond have up his sleeves?
- First, another consultation – should airlines be obliged to offer offsetting?
- A Business Energy Efficiency Scheme to help small businesses cut their carbon. Or rather, a call for evidence on such a thing.
- Proposals to increase green gas production.
- Potentially the big one: a “Future Homes Standard, mandating the end of fossil-fuel heating systems in all new houses from 2025.”
- New plans to mandate “biodiversity net gain for development in England”.
- A comprehensive global review of the link between biodiversity and economic growth.
That’s a very mixed bag. The first of them is possibly the most feeble environmental announcement I’ve ever heard, several steps removed from any meaningful action on reducing emissions from aviation. It’s good to see green gas and energy efficiency included though.
The future homes standard sounds a lot like the zero carbon homes that the Conservatives killed, and now can put back and claim the credit for – with a decade of lost time to pay for it. Still, that’s actually quite bold. No fossil fuel heating from 2025 is a clear goal and the housing sector already did a lot of research into this for the zero carbon homes standard. It follows the Climate Change Committee’s advice in their recent housing report, and it might finally focus minds on the question of renewable heat and our dependence on gas.
I don’t know what the biodiversity net gain will involve – hopefully not biodiversity offsets. And I don’t know what to say about the project exploring the links between biodiversity and economic growth. Will that be in any way objective? Because if it is, it might not come out in favour of economic growth.
On the environment, Theresa May’s government has announced a lot more consultations or calls for evidence than actual policies, and it’s hard to know how serious any of it is. Yes, it’s nowhere near the scale of the response needed to climate change, and it’s all couched in pro-growth and market rhetoric. But at least there are a handful of measures to report for a change, and the homes standard will be one to watch.