Has there ever been a duller budget than Alistair Darling's effort this week?
The general consensus appears to be no, and having just woken up after attempting to endure the thing in full I have to say I agree.
The predictable response from many within the environmental and green business movement was that the budget was little short of a disgrace, which I again have to agree with, although only up to a point.
In Darling's defence, the speech was almost certainly Labour's greenest budget to date. This is of course like being awarded the title of fastest snail, but it is worth noting that the chancellor spent far longer discussing the environment than his predecessor ever did and did come up with a number of interesting proposals.
It is a sign of both how far the green movement has come and how urgent the challenge of climate change is that a genuine attempt to take on two of environmentalists biggest bete noires in the form of gas guzzlers and plastic bags were largely dismissed as wholly inadequate.
The indication that road pricing plans are not, as widely reported, dead in the water was also to be welcomed, as was the new target for zero carbon buildings and the hint that the government is willing to up its emission reduction target for 2050 to 80 per cent.
So given these welcome developments why was the budget so roundly pilloried by green leaders?
Well, despite the crackdown on gas guzzlers and moves to improve the construction industry Darling's effort represented another budget that failed to deliver anything close to the wide ranging measures and innovative policy ideas to genuinely drive a low carbon economy.
It is a deeply worrying sign for a government that looks increasingly tired that in this critical area the innovative policy ideas are coming from elsewhere. Be it George Osborne's recent proposals for Green ISAs or the German government's hugely successful feed in tariff the government's claims that it is leading the way on climate change look increasingly detached from reality.
The budget also featured the now familiar problem of focusing on penalties and targets without a similar level of attention being paid to incentives and investment. So the construction industry will be forced to ensure all new non domestic buildings are zero carbon by 2019, but programmes to improve the efficiency of the existing housing stock get £26m or just over a £1 a house. Similarly, a few more green taxes might have been introduced, but the travesty of Defra's budget shortfall and the accompanying cuts to green business services goes completely unrectified.
The temptation for businesses every time another budget comes and goes without delivering, or even hinting that it might deliver, the legislative framework required to support a low carbon economy is to ignore those commentators, this one included, who maintain such changes are just round the corner.
And yet to give into such temptation would be a huge mistake.
The government, as embodied by Darling, has largely failed to be bold enough or innovative enough when it comes to tackling climate change. But the legislative framework is still coming - it's just that it will emerge from Brussels, not Westminster.
One comment from Darling's speech that went largely unreported was his commitment to support EU plans to force energy providers to buy 100 per cent of the credits they require under the EU emissions trading scheme at auction from 2013.
Currently, the vast majority of credits are dished out to them free of charge and they only fork out when they exceed their emissions cap. But from 2013 they will have to pay for every tonne of CO2 they emit, creating an effective carbon tax. Once that cost is added into energy prices the incentive for firms to either buy clean energy or cut energy use will increase dramatically.
The day after the budget speech Gordon Brown travelled to Brussels to agree to the timeline that will see the EU formally adopt plans this time next year to expand carbon trading and renewable energy capacity and set targets to cut emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 and increase the proportion of energy coming from renewables to 20 per cent.
With its neighbours committed to meeting these targets there are signs the government is willing to shake off its timidity, which was always caused in no small part by the fear of undermining UK competitiveness, and finally introduce some innovative policies that will really drive organisations to decarbonise their operations.
For example, as confirmed this week a huge expansion of carbon trading is on the cards through the Carbon Reduction Commitment, which will make it far more cost effective for 5,000 of the UK's largest energy users to invest heavily in energy efficiency measures.
Similarly, Brown is even now lobbying his European counterparts to embrace plans to slash VAT on green goods as part of a move that could effectively eradicate energy profligate electrical appliances and white goods from the market.
None of this excuses the years of inaction, as exemplified by Darling's decision to defer planned increases in fuel duty, or the government's penchant for setting targets and commissioning reviews when what is needed is investment and action.
And yet it also shows that any firm banking on the government repeatedly and continuously deferring the introduction of these environmental measures will be badly burnt. It might still be a frustrating few years away, but once a Europe-wide, and if Tony Blair has his way international, agreement on climate change is reached the regulatory framework needed for a low carbon economy could emerge extremely rapidly.
Right, I'm off to try and work out whether or not failure to protect Polar Bears constitutes a Deadly Sin.
Have a good weekend.
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