Tomorrow Alistair Darling announces his new Budget for the UK. This is an opportunity for him and his party to actual concretise some of the past promises they have made about ensuring that the UK leads Europe in its approach to the environment. It’s also an opportunity to counter the more than justified criticism of existing policies, or rather the lack thereof. Basically, Darling needs to put place some clear, firm and positive measures to show that Labour really is taking Global Warming and the reduction of CO2 seriously.
We do already have a few teasers - or at least all the newspapers are saying the same things. So-called ‘gas guzzlers’ are likely to be punished with a forecourt tax aiming to discourage people from buying them in the first place. Tax discs may be marked more clearly to indicate emissions levels of different cars. There are even suggestions of more radical proposals such as making parking more expensive for vehicles with higher emissions. Continuing with vehicles, energy companies will apparently be forced to increase the amount of biofuels (sustainably source, of course) they sell on a yearly basis - maybe a good move, but as we know from ongoing discussions, not one to please many environmentalists, and certainly not the ideal long term solution.
These proposals are all very well, but they certainly don’t show the government getting tough on the environment, and neither will raising green taxes or continuing to increase duty on fuel. This we’ve seen before, and, quite frankly, the impact will be minimal. So the question is, does Mr Darling have any surprises, real surprises, hidden under his hat?
Well we can hope, but what should we hope for? Personally I have one hope, although I fear it will not be fulfilled: as well as continuing with the deterrent approach - mostly taxing emissions - it’s time to do like Germany and introduce incentives, specifically a reasonable, interesting, Fee-in tarif for anyone producing surplus electricity via renewable sources. Just in case you’re not sure what this is, it’s really simple - if you generate electricity for your home or business via a renewable source - solar, wind, geothermal - and you produce more than your building requires, you can sell it back to the grid. This generates revenue, enabling you to pay back your investment in renewable energy faster (the cost to install a solar voltaic system for a 3 bedroom house is in the region of £20,000 today).
Germany is today the leader in electricity generation from sources such as wind and solar, and installations outnumbered those in the UK by as much as 1,000 to 1 last year. Why? Because people had a reason to invest beyond just ‘being green’. Because they had a way to pay off their investment within a reasonable period.
So I’m crossing my fingers for tomorrow, but I’m not holding out much hope. I will however continue to rant about this: we all know - governments included - that we need to move fast, and instead of just using the infamous ’stick’, this government needs to provide some ‘carrots’ - real, tangible ones.