Air Clean Up

Did the UK's 2017 Budget Fail on Pollution?

Dec 01 2017 Comments 0

After having lost two court cases to environmental law firm ClientEarth and come under heavy criticism for their lack of enthusiasm or conviction or environmental issues, it had been hoped that the Conservative Government’s autumn budget might do something to allay fears that the ruling party simply do not care about the future of our planet.

Unfortunately, when the budget was announced by Chancellor of the Exchequer Phillip Hammond last month, it once again fell short with regards to pollution. The only significant measure proposed was an increased tax on new diesel cars, with vans and older, more polluting vehicles completely ignored. Plastic pollution was also given minimum attention, as Hammond’s scope did not extend beyond vague promises to look into the problem.

Car tax inadequate to tackle pollution

The cornerstone of Hammond’s environmental policies is the decision to raise vehicle tax on newly-purchased diesel cars for the first year of use. Hammond was quick to point out that this does not affect vans – which are driven twice as far as cars on average – and will only apply for their first year on the road.

While the measure will affect the vast majority of newly-purchased vehicles (last year, seven times more cars were bought than vans across Britain), it does nothing to address the greater problem; i.e., older, more polluting models. In 2015, it was found that diesel engines can be four times more pollutant than trucks and buses, meaning immediate action needs to be taken curb their harmful influence. On this count, the budget simply does nothing at all.

What’s more, the tax itself is actually likely to have very little impact on how much people drive their diesel cars, and as such how much pollution is emitted into the atmosphere. In general, smaller and more efficient diesel models will only incur a tax rise of £40, a negligible amount when compared to other costs faced by drivers. More polluting models could see a rise of as much as £200, but since these tend to be purchased by more affluent drivers, again it’s unlikely to have a significant impact.

Actions not words

The budget could have been a real opportunity for the government to announce concrete measures that would improve air quality and reduce transport-related pollution, but instead their only real pledge looks to have little discernible effect on our emissions.

One positive to take from its introduction is the fact that the monies earned from the increased tax will go into a Clean Air Fund, though with no plans laid out for the money’s use, its unclear whether it will be used optimally. If the incumbent government’s track record on environmental issues is anything to go by, there’s not much hope that it will.

Hammond’s stance on plastic pollution was similarly unconvincing. While the Chancellor did recognise the issue as a huge and pressing problem, his only promise came in the form of enlisting Michael Gove’s help to “investigate how the tax system and charges on single-use plastic items can reduce waste”. Such a charge could indeed be beneficial, but once again the government has not been forthcoming on actual plans to implement one.

With all of that in mind, it can’t help but feel like the Autumn budget missed a glorious opportunity to announce concrete measures to tackle pollution and repair the government’s tarnished environmental image. In the event, it has simply followed the Conservatives’ previous tactic of saying much and doing little.

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