Brown picks a paler shade of green

Green analysis
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Indy Politics

Gordon Brown used the adjective "environmental" no fewer than 13 times during one part of his speech. He also said "environmentally" three times, and "environment" twice. But closer scrutiny suggests that the reality is a lot less green.

Gordon Brown used the adjective "environmental" no fewer than 13 times during one part of his speech. He also said "environmentally" three times, and "environment" twice. But closer scrutiny suggests that the reality is a lot less green.

Take his promotion of two new environmentally friendly fuels: ultra-low sulphur diesel, and ultra-low sulphur petrol. Earlier this week the Government published - what a coincidence! - a report showing the undoubted environmental benefits of cutting sulphur emissions by their use. Mr Brown is now cutting duty on both; by 3p a litre for diesel, and by 2p litre for petrol.

Brown: "By giving this incentive for cleaner fuels... we can... advance our environmental principles."

The reality: As usage of ultra-low sulphur diesel has this year reached 100 per cent - as Mr Brown admitted - no further uptake can be encouraged by reducing the duty.

It is a straightforward tax cut for the road haulage lobby dressed up as a green measure. Increased use of low sulphur fuel might cut sulphur, but it will do nothing to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. This, as new research from British scientists re-emphasised yesterday, is the main cause of global warming and the principal problem facing the planet.

The signal Mr Brown is giving is that motoring in general will be cheaper, and car use is in no way to be discouraged. This is a tax cut for any private motorist who wants to take advantage of it.

"Low sulphur fuels are not green fuels. They are still oil and do nothing to combat climate change," said Stephen Tindale, policy director of Greenpeace. "There are non-oil fuels available that cut pollution dramatically. If he wants to be truly environmental, Mr Brown should set up a green fuel fund to promote and develop the use of gas, bio-diesel, electricity and hydrogen."

Mr Brown made more environmental noises about another concession to the car lobby, extending the lower rate road licence fee for small cars from 1200cc to 1500cc engines.

Brown: "Consistent with our environmental principle that we tax vehicle ownership less, I want now to complete our environmentally-based reform of vehicle excise duty."

The reality: Mr Brown might be encouraging the use of smaller engines, but he is doing nothing to penalise the use of larger ones, the "gas guzzlers". As the fixed costs of motoring, such as tax discs, are very much less than the variable costs, such as petrol, the environmental effect is likely to be negligible. What green campaigners want is a banding system under which increasing road tax is paid with increasing engine size. Mr Brown's suggestion yesterday that he was "completing" reform of the system won him no plaudits with them.

Mr Brown's spraying the E-word around might have sounded good, but it did not impress Britain's green pressure groups yesterday. They all noted that cutting taxes would merely encourage car use.

"Supporting lower fuel taxes amounts to supporting climate change - the Chancellor is sending the wrong signals to the public," said Andrew Lee, deputy director of conservation for the World Wide Fund for Nature. "We must use less fuel."

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