Chancellor accused of ‘fiddling while planet burns’ after Spring Statement environment pledges

Green groups say Philip Hammond is paying lip service to natural world after pledges to increase road building and cuts to nature services

Josh Gabbatiss
Science Correspondent
Wednesday 13 March 2019 17:10
Philip Hammond: 'We must apply the creativity of the marketplace to deliver solutions to one of the most complex problems of our time - climate change'

New plans announced by the government to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss have been dismissed as greenwashing by environmental groups.

Carbon offsets for flights and an end to gas heating in new homes were among the measures floated by Philip Hammond in his Spring Statement.

But with consultations and calls for evidence supplanting hard targets, the chancellor was accused of “fiddling while the planet burns”.

Caroline Lucas said Mr Hammond’s rhetoric was “littered with contradictions”, amid growing unrest in response to the government’s perceived environmental failings.

“He announced energy efficiency standards for new homes, which his party scrapped in 2015. He wants travel providers to offer carbon offsets, while he builds new runways,” said the Green MP.

She said the chancellor was merely paying lip service to biodiversity protection following swingeing cuts to Natural England – the body tasked with monitoring the country’s nature and wildlife.

After the autumn Budget Mr Hammond was derided for not mentioning climate change at all, just weeks after scientists issued a dire warning about the need to act.

Instead, he faced criticism for pledging a huge investment in road building, despite cars now overtaking energy production as the biggest source of British emissions.

In the run-up to the statement, Mr Hammond said he had heard calls from young people to take more action on the environment, following a wave of protests and school strikes across the nation.

Another such strike is expected to take place on Friday, with thousands of children across the UK staging walkouts alongside pupils in more than 80 countries.

Mr Hammond told MPs he intended to “apply the creativity of the marketplace to deliver solutions to one of the most complex problems of our time – climate change”.

Philip Hammond's Spring Statement in 60 seconds

Housing and businesses were both in the chancellor’s sights, with promises to investigate ways to make companies more efficient and rely more on “green gas” in heating systems.

Government advisers have warned that UK housing is falling far behind in efforts to tackle climate change, and that emissions from heating – as well as transport – must be eliminated within two decades if the UK is to meet its legally binding targets.

But despite the chancellor pledging to end gas heating systems in new homes by 2025, campaigners said more would need to be done to ensure these targets were met.

“With the government enthusiastically backing more runways, more roads and fracking, it’s little wonder the UK is likely to miss future climate targets,” said Dave Timms, Friends of the Earth’s head of political affairs.

“The chancellor should have announced a massive programme of investment in home insulation and public transport, instead of pushing the false solution of carbon off-setting for aviation.

“Instead of putting climate change at the heart of economic policy-making, the Chancellor is merely fiddling in the margins while the planet burns.”

Besides climate change, the chancellor emphasised the economic importance of preventing nature loss, announcing new marine protected areas and a global review of the importance of biodiversity.

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Mel Evans, a senior campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said such a move could “be a really significant moment in our global nature crisis”, and praised Mr Hammond’s announcement of marine protections.

“But unfortunately too much of what we’ve heard today, from plastic waste to climate change, isn't new and isn’t bold enough,” she said.

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