Budget 2018: Environmental groups condemn lack of commitment to tackle climate change and wildlife declines

'The environment must be a top government priority if our children, our wildlife and our planet are not to pay a terrible price'

Josh Gabbatiss
Science Correspondent
Tuesday 30 October 2018 16:07 GMT
Budget 2018: New tax on plastic introduced by chancellor Philip Hammond

Environmental groups have criticised the lack of new funding and measures to tackle climate change and the spiralling decline of wildlife.

In the Budget Philip Hammond announced schemes to encourage tree planting and to tax plastics, but critics said such actions fail to tackle the problems Britain and the planet as a whole faces.

Many pointed out that the chancellor’s speech contained no references to climate change, despite coming in the wake of a major report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the devastating impacts of rising global temperatures.

Given the widely reported estimate that world leaders have roughly 12 years to dramatically cut emissions and restrict global warming, environmentalists criticised the government’s focus on road building and fossil fuel infrastructure.

“The disparity in investment between grey and green infrastructure contradicts the prime minister’s environmental ambitions, and the urgent need to tackle climate change,” said Tom Fyans, director of campaigns and policy at the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

“We need a comprehensive package of measures to tackle climate change and protect our treasured rural environment and local communities.”

Although in the Budget Mr Hammond stated Britain’s future economy would be “low carbon and green”, groups said actual commitments were thin on the ground.

Greenpeace UK’s executive director, John Sauven, said that following the IPCC’s warning, “the chancellor has delivered a budget that reads as though he missed the memo”.

The Wildlife Trusts singled out the development of the proposed Oxford Cambridge expressway for particular criticism, describing it as “a 20th century solution to a 21st century problem”.

“We need investment in public transport, not more roads and more cars,” said Estelle Bailey, CEO of the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust.

Among the alternative schemes suggested were greater investment and incentivising for renewable energy sources, as well as abandoning the government’s controversial support for fracking.

The Budget coincided with a report from WWF that warned of a 60 per cent decline in animal populations and called on world leaders to sort out a “global deal” to save nature.

British wildlife is not immune to this downward trend, and experts have warned that with almost one in six UK species at risk of extinction, the country is one of the most “nature depleted” in the world.

The fall in wildlife is matched by a fall in farm profits, with total income from English farming estimated to have dropped 36 per cent between 2013 and 2016.

While the recently announced agriculture bill promised to support nature-friendly farming, green groups say there is a need for long-term funding commitments so farmers can undertake proper environmental restoration.

David Bowles, head of public affairs at the RSPCA, said: “As the government has not confirmed long-term farming funding today, we urge them to do so as soon as possible to help stop animals suffering and reverse the long-term decline in nature to which intensive farming is contributing.”

Campaigners said that while any action on plastic is welcome, the proposed measures to tax plastics that are less than 30 per cent recycled material only deal with “the tip of the plastic iceberg”.

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“The only way to turn the plastic tide is to hit plastic producers where it hurts – their pockets,” said Sarah Baulch, senior oceans campaigner at the Environmental Investigation Agency.

“The government must set ambitious reduction targets and taxes across all single-use plastics.”

The amount of plastic in the world’s oceans is set to triple in the next decade, and it is increasingly clear that the entire plastic disposal system requires a radical shake-up to stop it entering the environment.

“With evidence of fraud and misuse in our plastic recycling industry, we must also tackle our inability to recycle our own waste, by investing in our domestic recycling infrastructure,” said Dr Sue Kinsey, senior pollution officer from the Marine Conservation Society.

Dr Elaine King, director of environmental coalition the Wildlife and Countryside Link, said that time was running out to tackle these problems.

“The environment must be a top government priority if our children, our wildlife and our planet are not to pay a terrible price,” she said.

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