Michael McCarthy: The less said the better about the planet, but there are cuts to come

When we get down to the nitty-gritty of individual department budgets, we see trouble
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The Independent Online

Green cuts are coming – the environment will be affected like everything else. But it will take several months before they become apparent.

Yesterday there was thanks for what was preserved. Some of the commitments dearest to green hearts have been ring-fenced, so there was no slashing, for example, of the money intended to provide immediate help to people seen as already suffering the effects of climate change (known as the "Fast Start Climate Funding"), which was agreed at the Copenhagen Climate Conference in December. Britain's share of the EU's £2bn commitment is a whopping great pile of cash, but there was no touching that, because there was no major cutting of overseas aid.

Other key environmental proposals, such as that for a Green Investment Bank which figured in all the party's recent election manifestos, or the Green Deal package of loans for low-carbon energy projects, are similarly going ahead, it was made clear yesterday.

It is when we get down to the nitty-gritty of individual departmental budgets, which of course Mr Osborne could not spell out in detail, that we see trouble ahead. A number of Government departments with environmental responsibilities – including Communities and Local Government, Transport, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) and Energy & Climate Change – have been asked to make 25 per cent cuts in their spending over the next four years.

These will bite directly at services with a strong environmental aspect, such as public transport. The Campaign for Better Transport estimated yesterday that blanket 25 per cent cuts to transport budgets could lead to bus services being decimated, train fares rising by 33 per cent over the next five years and train overcrowding, speed restrictions and withdrawal of many local train services outside London.

Similarly, if Defra has to chop 25 per cent from its spending, it seems almost certain that the agri-environment funding, which provides grants to farmers to manage their land in a much more wildlife-friendly way, will be cut. They are achieving real results, such as slowing down the catastrophic declines in farmland birds, half of which have gone in the last 40 years, yet over the UK as a whole, they represent large sums – in England alone, theytotal some £2bn annually. So it seems likely they will be cut.