Climate commitments in the 2021 UK Budget

A new UK Infrastructure Bank, the creation of freeports and positioning London as the leader of global voluntary carbon markets: the 2021 UK Budget touched upon several climate and energy commitments but does it go far enough? Ahead of COP26 in November we look at what has been announced.

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The new UK Infrastructure Bank in Leeds with capitalisation of £12bn to support the UK’s path to a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’, which will work alongside the private sector and local government to increase infrastructure investment, and the launch of a ‘world-leading’ sovereign green bond will contribute to a greener agenda to help tackle climate change and promote economic growth across the UK.

Planet Mark welcomes these greener infrastructure plans and projects which address greenhouse gas emissions, as they will help meet government objectives on climate change and regional economic growth.

Hearing that there are plans to make The City of London the leader of the global voluntary carbon markets for high-quality offsets also reaffirms everyone’s efforts in this direction, and we’re pleased that this goal forms part of the statement.

In addition, a key factor in the country’s recovery is the adaptability and resilience businesses show in the pandemic context, so the news that the Government is providing SMEs with opportunities to boost their digital capabilities through training and infrastructure to shift to online is also encouraging, as it recognises their mark in transitioning to a net-zero society and contributes to a healthier environment.

However, in these challenging times, we need to acknowledge that SMEs might struggle with the level of debt. Receiving encouragement to transition to a more sustainable way of operating would have eased their financial pressures, as Planet Mark research shows that sustainability makes business sense. It helps attract and retain talent, as employees are more loyal to businesses that care about their footprint; it helps them grow profits, as customers reward this positive behaviour; it can future-proof the company by understanding the long-term effects of societal and environmental issues; it can increase cost savings; offer greater transparency and help them gain competitive advantage.

In addition, Rishi Sunak mentioned a package which will deliver a temporary super deduction for companies investing in qualifying new plant and machinery assets. This is all very well, however these investments should be sustainable, otherwise they’re defeating the long-term purpose.

While financial stimuli for business was discussed, there wasn’t much detail about specific carbon reduction and/or offsetting programs, apart from the Government asking the Bank of England to look at voluntary high carbon offset projects.

The creation of free ports is also an interesting notion. However, one of the ‘benefits’ that can comes with this is relaxed environmental regulations. The Government will need to make some assurances that construction and environmental standards will still be upheld.

Overall, at Planet Mark, we believe the budget stops short of what is urgently needed. The Dasgupta Review on the Economics of Biodiversity calls for an investment-led recovery directed towards sustainable investments in nature for both the public and private sectors.

The Chancellor had a great opportunity to address the enormous waste problem we’re dealing with. However, this remains untouched. The unemployment plan addressing a move to green jobs would have been good to see as well. The freeze in fuel duty is also disappointing, as we would have wanted to see these funds from increased tax used towards the climate emergency, perhaps for public transport or to help equip the country to meet its ambitious electric vehicle targets. Instead, we’re making allowances that support the use of fossil fuels.

The green stimulus is lacking ambition and diversity in times when definitive action is required on the road to the Decade of Action. We’re in need of a long-term, sustainable plan, not a quick fix that papers over the cracks.

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