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Chancellor criticised for lack of climate action ahead of Cop26 talks

·4 min read

The Chancellor has been criticised for delivering a Budget light on environmental measures and with a cut to taxes for domestic flights – just days before the UK hosts key Cop26 climate talks.

Rishi Sunak announced a 50% cut in air passenger duty for flights within the UK, along with an increase in the tax for those flying more than 5,500 miles, and a continued freeze on fuel duty for motorists in the face of rising prices.

He told MPs that the net zero strategy announced last week to eliminate UK climate emissions was investing £30 billion to create the new green industries of the future, championed London as a centre for green finance and confirmed he would be hosting finance ministers at Cop26.

But the lack of environmental focus in the speech, given four days before the UK plays host to the crucial UN summit aimed at driving greater climate ambition to avoid dangerous global warming, sparked immediate anger.

There was also concern over the tax changes, spending of £20 billion on roads, and the announcement that UK aid spending would return to 0.7% of GDP only in 2024-25, which critics fear has undermined trust from developing countries ahead of the international talks.

The Chancellor was accused of talking more about alcohol taxes than the climate in his speech, and of extending the age of fossil fuels.

Shadow business secretary Ed Miliband, who had earlier called on Boris Johnson to ensure climate delivery, not delay, as he deputised for Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer at Prime Minister’s Questions, claimed the Budget failed on the cost of living crisis and the climate crisis.

He tweeted: “No green recovery, no plan to save families £400 on bills, no plan for green steel. Working people will pay the price of Tory climate delay.”

Mr Sunak defended freezing fuel duty as being key to help drivers with the cost of living.

“Fuel is now at an eight-year high and I didn’t think it was right in the face of that to increase fuel duty,” he told ITV’s Peston.

“We are taking action to mitigate climate emissions but in the short term I want to protect people from rises in fuel duty because I want to help them with the cost of living.”

But Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace UK, said: “The climate emergency should have been the centrepiece of this spending review ahead of the most critical UK-hosted climate talks in years, but Sunak spent more time discussing duty on domestic cider.”

She claimed the Chancellor had delivered just a fraction of what was needed in funding for green homes, clean transport, protecting nature and supporting workers to shift to green jobs, and accused him of “actively making things worse by making it cheaper to fly between UK cities”.

“Each year (that) proper funding for real climate action is delayed, the worse the climate crisis will get and the more costly it will become – both in monetary terms and for people’s lives,” she warned.

Mike Childs, head of policy at Friends of the Earth, said fast-tracking the shift to a net zero economy should have been at the heart of Mr Sunak’s plans, but climate change “hardly featured”.

“With only days to go before Boris Johnson hosts crucial talks in Glasgow, this financial announcement was shockingly bad, and will do little to show his Government recognises the enormity of the climate crisis we face,” he said.

Luke Murphy, head of think tank IPPR’s Environmental Justice Commission, said the cut to domestic air passenger duty was the only announcement in the Budget speech that would affect greenhouse gas emissions – and it would increase them.

“The truth is, this climate-void, fossil fuel-heavy budget failed to deliver the necessary £30 billion of investment needed each year to meet our climate and nature targets.

“Investing in a green economy would have been the fiscally responsible thing to do, avoiding the huge costs of inaction, and maximising the benefits and opportunities of the transition,” he said.

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