Britain can’t afford to go cool on Climate change
The chancellor believes we cannot save the planet until we save the economy. He is wrong on many counts
The hostile reaction to George Osborne‘s refusal last week to let environmental issues play a part in restoring Britain’s ailing economy is unsurprising. As a swath of enraged ecologists, academics and NGOs has claimed, his party – put in power on a promise to be the greenest ever elected – is now set to acquire the mantle of being the most environmentally destructive in recent history.
You can see their point. Threatening to weaken planning regulations, reducing subsidies for solar panels, scrapping plans to increase fuel duty and providing tax subsidies for our most polluting industries – on the grounds that “endless social and environmental goals” will cause businesses to fail – are not the actions of a chancellor sympathetic to green causes.
For his part, Osborne has made it clear that short-term expediency motivates his actions: we cannot save the planet until we have saved our economy, he argues. This view is straightforward but mistaken in many ways. Consider the political issues. Exposing parts of our finest countryside, such as Chesil Beach or the Norfolk Broads, to the threat of industrial development risks alienating the strong Tory vote of these areas. David Cameron, who made much of his championship of green causes at the last election, has also been made to look foolish.
Then there are the economic concerns. Slashing support for renewable energies and providing tax relief for heavy, energy-intensive industries will only increase Britain’s reliance on fossil fuels. By contrast, committing the country to the development of wave, tide and solar energy projects would have helped Britain wean itself from oil and gas, which we are importing at ever-increasing costs. This investment could also have helped create technologies, including tide and wave power plants, whose sales round the world could have made billions for Britain in future decades. A golden opportunity has been lost.
The fact that Osborne has chosen this moment to reveal his climate-sceptic colours is also intriguing. In Durban, delegates from across the globe have gathered in a bid to revitalise international agreements to curb carbon emissions and global warming. Those who looked to Britain for a lead will have noted the signals sent out by our chancellor: there is no rush and we have other priorities. Like Canada, the US and several other developed nations, Britain appears to be happy to sit back and watch as hopes of reaching a binding international deal to cut carbon emissions fade away…
The environmental movement has spoken out repeatedly against policies that put short-term profit ahead of our countryside and wildlife, eroding our natural capital and quality of life, but rarely have we been as incredulous as we were last Tuesday, hearing the autumn statement. The stunning disregard shown for the value of the natural environment not only flies in the face of popular opinion but goes against everything the government said in June when it launched two major pieces of environmental policy – the natural environment white paper and the England biodiversity strategy.
It is increasingly clear that society needs a new economic model that accounts properly for our natural capital. Yet with this statement, its “red-tape challenge”, sudden cuts to solar subsidies and its ill-conceived planning reforms, the government is continuing an out-of-date approach that casts regulation and the environment as enemies to growth. Is the environment really an obstacle to economic productivity or is it in fact the very basis of it? Not a hard question to answer and there is an increasingly powerful body of evidence that demonstrates this, including the government’s own national ecosystem assessment.
How can the prime minister tolerate this gaping intellectual and political inconsistency and walk with open eyes down a path that condemns future generations to a lower quality of life and to a massive and costly struggle to rebuild the country’s natural riches? We appeal to him to champion long-term, sustainable economic policies that will bring much-needed prosperity without destroying all that millions hold dear.
Mike Clarke chief executive, RSPB; Shaun Spiers chief executive, Campaign to Protect Rural England; John Sauven executive director, Greenpeace; Stephanie Hilborne chief executive, Wildlife Trusts; Andy Atkins executive director, Friends of the Earth
For 15 months, we have observed with growing concern this government’s failure to live up to its promise to be the “greenest ever”. Now, following the chancellor’s autumn statement, we can say that the coalition is on a path to becoming the most environmentally destructive government to hold power in this country since the modern environmental movement was born.As George Osborne sat down, our political culture crossed a line and became a little more like that which dominates Washington DC. We know from experience – not least by observing events across the Atlantic – that when such a line is crossed it is extremely difficult to retrieve lost ground.
The chancellor has proposed:
• Tax breaks for the country’s most polluting industries.
• A revision of the basic safeguards that protect our most precious wildlife sites from development.
• A major expansion of airport capacity in the south-east of England
• Support for a major expansion of the road network.
• Aggressive implementation of a new presumption in favour of development in the planning system.
Osborne has proclaimed that protecting the environment is against the public interest – something no senior politician in this country has done in recent history.
George Monbiot author; Jonathon Porritt, Tony Juniper former directors, Friends of the Earth; Joss Garman co-founder, Plane Stupid;Tamsin Omond co-ordinator, Save England’s Forests campaign;Caroline Lucas MP Green party leader
Alastair Donald and Austin Williams talking about their new book, “The Lure of the City” in the Economist
Some eco-cities are merely marketing labels to sell bog-standard urban developments to canny politicians; some have regressive anti-urbanist agendas but masquerade as urbanism. Then again some have good points in that they are, at least, urban agglomerations with much-needed housing. The bluster about zero-carbon is farcical when you explore the figures.
In the book I carried out a simple comparison of Tianjin in China and London using the criteria by which Tianjin markets itself as an eco-city. Even though the conclusions are tongue-in-cheek, the data are interesting.
For example, of those who commute to central London, 90% travel by non-car means. This is the same percentage of public-transport trips intended for Tianjin. In terms of carbon emissions, Londons are currently nearly half of those projected for Tianjin. Since October 2011, all new domestic developments in London have had a maximum water consumption rate of 120 litres per person per day, which is the same that Tianjin aims for in ten years time. And finally, London has 105 square metres of green space per person, almost nine times that proposed for purpose-made Tianjin. If I was being mischievous, I might conclude that London is actually way ahead in environmental terms of a purpose-made Chinese eco-city.
An extraordinary alliance of countryside campaigners, wildlife groups and green activists today launches a savage onslaught on the government, accusing it of showing “stunning disregard” for the environment.
The attack – backed by organisations including the RSPB and the Campaign to Protect Rural England – is a significant embarrassment for David Cameron who claimed at the last election that his would be the “greenest government ever”.
However, in letters to the Observer, green groups – including the umbrella organisation the Wildlife Trusts, which has more than 800,000 members – ridicule this claim and vent their fury over last week’s autumn statement by George Osborne.
With the government outlining cuts in solar energy subsidies, reforming planning regulations and introducing tax support for energy-intensive industries, the chancellor’s rhetoric has infuriated the green lobby. “Following the chancellor’s autumn statement, we can say that the coalition is on a path to becoming the most environmentally destructive government to hold power in this country since the modern environmental movement was born,” states one letter, signed by the green campaigners George Monbiot, Tony Juniper, Jonathon Porritt, Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party, and others.
A second letter, from the heads of the RSPB, Greenpeace and others, says: “The stunning disregard shown for the value of the natural environment not only flies in the face of popular opinion but goes against everything the government said in June, when it launched two major pieces of environmental policy – the natural environment white paper and the England biodiversity strategy.”
The backlash comes as serious tensions are developing inside the Tory/Liberal Democrat coalition over green policy. The Observer understands that the Liberal Democrat energy secretary, Chris Huhne, was not consulted by Osborne about his comments in the autumn statement. In terms that many MPs saw as at odds with the government’s professed enthusiasm for the environment, Osborne told the Commons last Tuesday: “We are not going to save the planet by shutting down our steel mills, aluminium smelters and paper manufacturers. All we will be doing is exporting valuable jobs out of Britain.”
Osborne also said he wanted to ensure that “gold plating of EU rules on things like habitats” was not putting “ridiculous costs” on firms. Several leading Liberal Democrats are furious, and fear that the government is backtracking on its commitments. One minister said he could not understand Osborne’s behaviour. The minister said: “If George goes down this route, he fires an Exocet missile right through David Cameron’s political integrity.”
Tim Yeo, the Tory chairman of the energy and climate committee, said: “We are getting a change of rhetoric, with more emphasis on the burdens that green projects could put on the economy. But it is out of step with what the government is doing, much of which is radical and forward-looking.”
Labour last night claimed that the Tories were undergoing a “retoxification” as they abandon the softer image they promoted before the last general election.
The dispute intensified as delegates gathered for the latest climate change summit in Durban. The meeting’s goal of further progress on global emissions is unlikely to be met as developed nations continue to fret over their own domestic financial woes.
Earlier this year the government infuriated many traditional Conservative party supporters when it emerged that it was planning to sell many of the nation’s forests. Following an outcry from countryside and environmental groups the policy was abandoned. Since then it has been locked in an equally damaging row over plans to loosen planning controls that many Tories feel would threaten the countryside.
Now environmentalists fear more damage from large-scale developments – including port and road schemes. They cite the north Norfolk coast, the North Yorkshire moors, the Wye valley and the Salisbury plain as large areas of natural and untouched beauty that could be under threat.
Many Tories are also concerned about potential environmental damage from the proposed HS2 highspeed rail line between London and Birmingham.
The transport secretary, Justine Greening, is expected to announce a delay in the final decision on the project this week in order to examine whether funding estimated at £500m could be used to pay for a new tunnel under the Chiltern hills.
A treasury spokesman said last night: “This is the government that introduced the first green investment banks, the carbon price floor and the green deal. Our planning reforms strike the right balance between protecting our countryside [and] permitting economic development that creates jobs.”
Promoting the project at Oxford’s Saïd Business School this week, he stood before a packed audience, repeating his call to action and responding to criticism so far.
The Ministry of Defence had said the nearby wreckage of a second world war munitions ship would not pose a danger if the developers could steer clear of it during construction. Twelve listed buildings on the Isle of Grain, the proposed site for the airport, could either be incorporated into the design or relocated. The 2 sq km of bird habitat destroyed by the development could be replaced by a man-made sanctuary three times that size, “which I think will make the birds very happy”, says Lord Foster, hamming it up.
Some people worry that this project, even if correct in instinct, will not happen soon enough. Paris and Frankfurt already boast more emerging-market connections than London. Heathrow’s Terminal 5 took 15 years from submission of the initial planning application to opening day.
But he points out that Hong Kong’s new airport was built in four years. Must the UK be so different? “It’s one minute to midnight,” the 76-year-old tells his young audience. “There’s not a moment to lose.”
Aylesbury Vale’s Core Strategy was withdrawn at the end of last year post examination and pre adoption.
They have now published consultation on a range of housing and employment targets.
In two regards this is creditable. Unlike some other areas they have not included a zero net migration option. This would require a 15% reduction in employment, so in the unlikely event of a council cpo’ing employment sites to shut them down is a complete non-starter. Also they have avoided the trap of consulting on separate employment and housing numbers, instead putting them in linked pairs. A high employment forecast for example will generate more housing requirements.
They propose a range of forecasts. For comparison the RSS development level, rolling forward to 2031 and subtracting completions from 2006 and commitments is 790 a year. The range of targets being considered have a low of 255 a year, and a high of 670 a year.
Why the discrepancy? First the lower end of the range – trend based demographic projections, don’t account for additional in migration from employment growth, the higher employment led projections make up the higher options. But they are still lower than the ONS figures, by some distance why?
The reason is that the employment growth projections use a ‘shift share’ method based on the current share of different industries being projected forward. They are not forecasts based on existing trends not policy, so for example a policy of growth will lead to more land being allocated for employment and firms and people moving in. People moving in will also create new firms which dont form part of the baseline ‘share’. Secondly the national household projections also have migration assumptions which net to zero. So for example if an area is growing because of population change a spurt will likely lead to a migration spurt to other areas. The risk of entirely local projections as here is of a serious under-counting when local projections are summed nationally.
The final reason for a discrepancy is the failure to include an allowance for Milton Keynes Growth on its northern boundary. But given south Bucks is green belt and AONB under the ‘duty to cooperate’ these authorities will be looking to North Bucks for overspill growth, indeed this was the whole purpose of Milton Keynes in the first place.
Indeed the whole episode illustrates how local targets can be used to paint a false picture of housing need leading to serious shortages of provision across a sub-region.
Aylesbury Vale has shown itself able to sustain over 700 completions a year despite the recession, remarkable, so if an area like this cannot sustain continued growth where can?