Osborne: The new enemy of the green movement?

The Chancellor is quietly waging a war on the British environment, activists claim


George Osborne is not a climate sceptic, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Chris Huhne, was obliged to pronounce yesterday, in the face of growing criticism of the Chancellor's commitment to Britain's environmental agenda and in particular to UK plans to combat global warming.

Mr Huhne defended the Chancellor against allegations that he showed scant enthusiasm and for the environment in his Autumn Statement this week, and indeed, used language verging on the contemptuous.

"The Chancellor has pointed out, he's told me very, very clearly, he is absolutely committed to dealing with the problem of climate change, precisely because he is convinced by the science," Mr Huhne said. "He is not in the position of somebody like Nigel Lawson [former Chancellor Lord Lawson of Blaby] who is clearly sceptical about the science."

Leaders of Britain's major environmental groups have discussed between themselves in recent days the "problem" of Mr Osborne, who is being regarded more and more as a powerful obstructive influence – not to say a destructive one – on Britain's green agenda.

The Chancellor is increasingly seen as pulling the strings of other Cabinet ministers such as Eric Pickles, the Communities and Local Government Secretary, over planning reform, and Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, over green regulation and the sell-off of wildlife sites.

Mr Osborne's description this week of the Habitats Regulations, Britain's leading wildlife protection laws, as placing "ridiculous" costs on business, and his declared intent to shake them up, were strongly resented, and the Chancellor risks becoming the first major political hate figure for environmentalists since Nicholas Ridley, Margaret Thatcher's free-marketeering Environment Minister, more than 20 years ago.

"A love of the natural world is deeply rooted in our country – and so for George Osborne to pledge to ditch the most important laws that protect the crown jewels of our countryside is politically toxic, and suggests he learned nothing from the woodland sell-off fiasco," John Sauven, the executive director of Greenpeace, said yesterday.

He added: "The Prime Minister has long articulated how a strong economy and protection of the environment can go hand in hand through investment in the clean industries of the future.

"In contrast, Osborne now seems to be suggesting that wildlife and a healthy environment are bad for business. David Cameron will now need to intervene to ensure that environmental destruction is not the price that Britain pays because of Osborne's outdated economic thinking."

Martin Harper, conservation director of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), said: "Tuesday's Autumn Statement was a tipping point. It is clear the Chancellor has no regard for sustainable development or investing in the green economy."

By contrast, Mr Huhne's publication of the revised UK Carbon Plan is sending a clear signal to nearly 200 countries gathered at the UN Climate Conference in Durban, South Africa, that a major industrialised nation such as Britain still thinks it is right, necessary and possible to embark on a major long-term project to slash greenhouse gas emissions – in Britain's case, by an ultimate 80 per cent on the 1990 baseline by 2050. "Britain is walking the walk," Mr Huhne said.

Nicholas Ridley

Not many British Cabinet ministers have the distinction of being burned in effigy by their own supporters, but Margaret Thatcher's sometime Environment Minister and political ally Nicholas Ridley did – by Hampshire Tories in 1988, in a row over house-building in the countryside.

Chain-smoking, acerbic, wholly unsympathetic to the green agenda and widely loathed, he was eventually replaced by Mrs Thatcher (with Chris Patten) after the Green Party captured 15 per cent of the vote in the 1989 European Parliamentary Election.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'