Budget 2014: The twelve (not-so-green) faces of George Osborne

Here are the twelve (not-so-green) faces of the chancellor and his latest Budget.

David Powell is economics campaigner at Friends of the Earth

Thanks, Royal Mint. I was grasping for a way to talk again about the green turpitude of the chancellor’s latest Budget – a carbon tax frozen, some piddly money for flood clean-ups, promises to drill “every last drop” of UK oil and gas – when you dropped the new dodecagonal pound coin onto our laps.

Twelve faces, I thought? How apposite.  (I know technically the coin has twelve edges, not faces. But this metaphor needs all the help it can get.)

So here are the twelve (not-so-green) faces of the chancellor and his latest Budget:

1.    The ‘fierce urgency of now’ face. In 2009 Osborne pledged that his Treasury would “lead” in the fight for green jobs. This face has got saggy and isn’t allowed out much anymore.

2.    The ‘internalising externalities’ face. Ie: putting a price on pollution. This face invented the Carbon Price Floor (CPF) – a rising tax on fossil fuel emissions. The CPF isn’t perfect: the cash disappears into general coffers rather than, say, insulating homes. Yet with EU carbon permits dirt cheap and MPs bottling a ban on coal, it was all we had as a forward investment signal against high carbon. But hang on, here comes…

3.    The ‘we won’t fix the climate by putting the country out of business’ face. And…

4.    The ‘not too fast, lads’ face. This face is best mates with face #3; they’ve taken faces #1 and #2 round the back of the office and smacked them in the kisser. So, planned rises in the CPF were scrapped in today’s Budget – removing the whole point of a rising future carbon price signal in the first place. The chancellor claimed his package of big business carbon and green subsidy exemptions is worth £7 billion.

5.    The ‘I will protect you’ face. In February the chancellor said flooding was bad and should be prevented. Budget 2014 saw an extra £140 million for clearing up after the floods. But it is extra cash that barely makes up for the government’s embarrassing cuts to flood defences in the first place, over which Osborne presided. It is also out of whack with what actually needs to be spent – flood defence spending needs to increase by £500m to keep pace with climate change.

6.    The ‘how much?’ face. The Green Investment Bank still isn’t allowed to borrow to support an infrastructure (not house-bubble) economic recovery. No change of aspect  in this year’s Budget, despite MPs recently urging otherwise.

7.    The ‘Daddy knows best’ face. This face bosses other departments, like DECC, around. When Osborne first announced plans for generous tax breaks for dirty shale gas in the UK, Friends of the Earth called up DECC to ask them about it and they didn’t know what we were talking about. Today, even more tax breaks for oil extraction. It’s not an easy face to work with.

8.    The ‘thumbing the nose at business confidence’ face. Osborne is perpetually seeking to water down our long-term carbon budgets – despite even Shell telling him to leave them alone. We hoped this Budget would see the back of this stupid face for good: fat chance.

9.    The ‘I’ll give you facts’ face. Mr Osborne championed shale gas yet again despite just about all credible opinion rejecting the idea that shale will do anything much for energy bills at all. This is the face I most want to poke with a stick.

10. The ‘grim and austere’ face. The chancellor’s favourite face. This face face-butts all the other faces when they say things they shouldn’t.

11.  The ‘panicked rabbit’ face. This face sobs in the honking headlight glare of the right-wing media, the clamour of big business, and backbench climate sceptics. It leads to year on year fuel duty cuts, cuts to Air Passenger Duty, the lashing out at “green crap” on energy bills, and is behind much of the chancellor’s general meekness and faff on the environment.

12. The ‘help me, I’ve run out of ideas face’. I’ve got this face on now, to be honest. But actually – phew! – this is the face from which Osborne’s budgets most frequently appear to be delivered. There’s billions of investment in transforming our infrastructure and energy systems desperately needed, but at least twelve different attitudes to clean investment has confused just about everyone.

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