It takes quite some doing to annoy two diametrically opposed sides of a debate, but somehow Gordon Brown has managed it.
In one timid swoop the Chancellor's pre-budget report yesterday managed to disappoint both those old school business leaders who have not yet twigged that financial and environmental gains are compatible, as well as the massed ranks of green business campaigners, including many senior corporate leaders, the Lib Dems, Cameron's Tories and a large chunk of Labour's own backbenchers.
The decision to raise fuel duty by 1.25 pence received the expected criticism from hauliers, while the doubling of air passenger duty was dismissed by the CBI as "a blunt tool that does not really reflect the environmental impacts of air travel".
Meanwhile, those in favour of green taxes also trained their sights on the Chancellor arguing that such modest tax increases, coupled with his refusal to reintroduce the fuel levy escalator and his dismissal of higher taxes on gas guzzling cars, meant these so-called green taxes would have absolutely no effect on people's behaviour.
In fact, they argued, green taxes have actually fallen as a proportion of overall taxes since 1997 and the latest increases amount to less than 0.1 percent of GDP as opposed to the 1 percent of GDP that Sir Nicholas Stern said would be required to actually reduce carbon emissions.
Tax experts agreed that the increases were in no way sufficient to impact people's actions while environmental groups like Friends of the Earth also put the boot in claiming the report did "little to show that the Government is prepared to face up to the challenges of global climate change".
Having said only a month ago that the Stern Review was of critical importance Brown has now badly disappointed the green business lobby. As one senior business exec moaned, he has taken "baby steps where we were expecting big leaps forward".
However, if rumours around Whitehall are to be believed the government is not ignoring the Stern Review completely, it is simply choosing to focus its carbon reduction efforts almost exclusively around carbon trading.
According to reports this week ministers are warming to the idea of introducing a carbon trading scheme that will apply to around 5,000 organisations with electricity bills of over £250,000. Firms will be given a carbon allowance and those that exceed it will have to buy extra carbon credits from those companies that don’t use up their full allowance.
Brown hinted such a scheme was in the pipeline in his speech yesterday, claiming he wanted to make "London the world centre of carbon trading".
By introducing a wider carbon trading scheme Brown could argue that firms would be incentivised to slash their carbon emissions and that he was adhering to Stern's recommendations that the mechanism countries use to tackle climate change could be determined by the political environment.
Behind closed doors he could also remind his backbenchers of the fuel protests of a few years ago and point out that carbon trading schemes are unlikely to lose anyone many votes – something that can't really be said of green taxes.
Large businesses can therfore expect to to soon face a trading framework that will result in financial penalties if they pollute and financial windfalls if they reduce their carbon emissions.
This is in many ways encouraging for firms already pioneering green business models, though from a purely environmental perspective it looks like a remarkably high risk plan.
The first problem is that, as the EU has found, setting the right carbon emission allowances for each individual firm is less than easy – set it too high and the impact on carbon emissions will be negligible, too low and the pro-business lobby will go mad.
Monitoring and policing over 5,000 firms will also prove tricky and the scheme will only work if the government is willing to face down objections and dish out massive fines for any company that exceeds their carbon allowance without buying extra credits.
Also extending the scheme to 5,000 organisations - even if they are 5,000 of the largest in the country and account for over a quarter of the carbon emissions from the public and private sector - means the UK's massive midmarket sector is still under no pressure to embrace greener business models.
The government will of course claim that it will further expand the scheme once it is established, with the idea of personal carbon allowances even being floated. But all of this takes time and it is worth noting that one of the central tenets of the Stern Review was that it would be more cost effective to act sooner rather than later.
These numerous challenges mean that Brown would be foolhardy to put all his eggs in one basket and eschew green taxes and subsidies in favour of a complex and largely unproven new carbon market. Taxes and subsidies may be "blunt instruments", but they are simple to implement and can have a massive effect. It may be politically expedient, but Brown should think very carefully before dismissing them outright.
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