The government will present the budget on Wednesday and motorists are hoping George Osborne will make fuel cheaper for them as energy prices soar. While this may ease the wallet squeeze in the short term, the last year has shown us that we are at the mercy of world events for fuel prices – first with BP’s oil spill in the Gulf and now because of unrest in the Middle East. And the consequences of these events are more far reaching than pump prices.
Our addiction to old-fashioned energy sources is helping to drive conflict, climate change and putting our environment, health and fragile economy at risk.
This budget is the first opportunity since this latest energy crisis and the nuclear crisis in Japan for the government to drive serious investment in the clean, safe energy sources that can keep the lights on, keep transport moving and our homes warm without those risks.
Fuel prices aren’t the only concern, we're all worried about our economy and unemployment. And this budget will reveal how far this government is willing to go to support low carbon economic growth and jobs. A key test will be whether or not the chancellor creates a strong Green Investment Bank - capable of investing tens of billions of pounds in renewable energy and energy efficiency.
Will the chancellor simply try to manage the fluctuations of energy prices passed on to consumers or invest in the real solutions?
This government could solve the issues of rising fuel and electricity costs, create green jobs, support growth in the economy and reduce our carbon emissions with these 10 steps.
To deliver clean electricity and heat for Britain this budget should:
1. Set up and properly fund a Green Investment Bank to drive investment into renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. The Treasury wants this to be little more than a short term fund. But in order for the bank to leverage significant private investment it needs to operate like a bank - it must be capable of borrow and issuing bonds and loans. This must be a state backed bank to provide confidence for private investment and to taxpayers that the public funds will be used wisely.
2. Invest £160 million in wave and tidal energy technology development and infrastructure construction to create jobs, provide clean energy and maintain the UK’s place as a world leader in this emerging sector. This level of investment in wave and tidal energy could deliver 20 per cent of our energy in future.
3. Invest £240 million over five years to increase the amount of electricity we get from offshore wind energy and meet our renewable energy target.
4. George Osborne is expected to announce a new levy that will charge utilities for the amount of carbon in the fuel they use to generate electricity. But this could raise consumer bills without creating incentives for utilities to invest in renewable energy. We can only support a carbon levy if the revenues support energy efficiency measures (thus balancing out thus cost to the consumer) and go to support the Green Investment Bank and capital projects.
5. Consumer bills are set to rise anyway as a result of essential investment in new energy generation and network infrastructure that the big energy companies have failed to deliver over the past few decades. The government must make sure that energy companies keep energy bills at reasonable levels and that investment in energy efficiency measures reduce the impact on households.
To deliver low carbon transport for Britain, this budget should:
6. Champion the creation of tougher efficiency standards for vehicles. Currently little is invested in making our vehicles more efficient since there is no impetus for car companies to do so. By setting more ambitious (but realistic targets) of 80g of CO2 per kilometre for average emissions by 2020, it would drive cleaner technologies and help reduce the cost and impact of volatile oil import prices.
7. As an alternative to a fuel duty see-saw, the Treasury could raise revenue by amending the duty to raise money from the drivers of the most polluting vehicles thus providing yet more incentives for lower carbon vehicles.
8. The government is already offering a rebate to people purchasing hybrid and electric cars this year, but this has a limited budget and once it's gone, no more rebate. The government could extend the rebate to encourage more people to buy electric and at the same time invest in a charging infrastructure for electric vehicles nationwide so the UK can compete with places like China and Israel for electric vehicle development (and that means more jobs across the country).
9. Continue to support local bus services with refunds for some of the fuel duty incurred by local operators.
10. Reports suggest that Osborne is shying away from raising the existing air passenger duty. If the government was serious about tackling aviation emissions it would commit to raising the existing passenger duty every year at a rate above inflation and encourage EU countries to introduce similar taxes like Germany and Austria have recently done so that use of this carbon intensive form of transport can help support the creation and expansion of low carbon transportation infrastructure.
I'll post an update after the budget showing how the budget measures up to these benchmarks, and if you want to help us campaign for clean energy, clean transport, green jobs and green growth, check out our local groups network to find your nearest group and sign up.