The scale of the disagreements within government about how best to tackle climate change have been thrown into the open today as reports emerged that the author of the recent report into the economic impact of global warming is to quit the Treasury.
Sir Nicholas Stern, the man behind the far-reaching Stern Review, is reported to be leaving the Treasury next March amidst rumours that he was being frozen out from Chancellor Gordon Brown's inner circle.
Stern said he had been planning the move for some time and had enjoyed working at the Treasury. But the announcement's timing, just a day after Brown issued a pre-budget report featuring only nominal concessions on the environment, seems designed to cause maximum embarrassment for the Chancellor.
The move is likely to stoke further criticism of Brown's lack of action over climate change.
Despite the scale of the warnings in the Stern Review and the central message that early action will prove more beneficial to the global economy than waiting, Brown appears to have accepted few of the recommendations in the report for green taxes and a major carbon trading scheme.
He has already resisted calls from the environment secretary David Miliband for a wide ranging package of environmental taxes and according to sources at the Treasury, cited in The Times this morning, his opposition to green levies is now so strong that he had to be persuaded to introduce even the modest rises in fuel and air passenger duty.
There is talk that a new carbon trading scheme will be introduced next year, but even this is not on the scale Stern's report called for. It is not unreasonable to assume Stern is leaving his post a very frustrated man.
So what does Brown's timidity mean for the business community?
There will be a temptation in some quarters to think that businesses are now off the hook when it comes to the environment. Despite all the recent sound and fury, major taxes on environmentally damaging behaviour seem as far off now as they were prior to the Stern Review. Carbon trading will gradually emerge, but many companies will forsee only minor penalties if they fail to tackle carbon emissions and will now feel free to continue with business as usual.
However, any exec making these assumptions could find that a number of factors combine to ensure that in failing to act they are doing long term damage to their business.
First up, while a strong tax and regulatory framework is needed to drive the reduction in carbon emissions, the market is going some way to incentivising cuts already. With electricity prices set to climb it is a foolish firm that is not taking action to reduce their energy bills.
Secondly, if the cliché is not too worn out, a week is a long time in politics. If Gordon Brown favours political expediency over environmental action there are no guarantees the next person who lives at No11 Downing Street will feel the same way. The Tories and Lib Dems both want far more green taxes and it is again a foolish firm that does not include in their long term risk assessments the liklihood that such a tax regime will eventually emerge.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Brown's calculation that he would gain more political capital from eschewing green taxes than introducing them may just have backfired.
His timidity has attracted fierce criticism with several of the papers running stories lambasting the lack of a clear green agenda in the pre-budget report. Moreover, the attacks on the Chancellor are not confined to the usual suspects in the green lobby. The opposition, major business figures, and huge swathes of the general population - all of which he would traditionally expect to oppose major tax hikes – are all expressing disappointment at the lack of a well thought out green policy.
It will be frustrating to many business leaders that they have to take the lead in reducing carbon emissions without a strong tax and legislative framework to help them on the way. But those that do take action are likely to improve their standing with the growing number of potential customers who disagree wholeheartedly with the Chancellor's business as usual attitude.
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