It is hard to know what to think.
Do you praise the fact the UK will finally get a green investment bank, or lament that it will not be able to borrow any money until 2015? Do you welcome the UK becoming the first country in the world to have a carbon floor price, or bemoan the low level at which has been set? Do you salute the promise of planning reforms that may finally allow renewable energy projects to be built, or fear the prospect of environmentally damaging new developments? Do you greet government efforts to replace air passenger duty with a greener per-plane levy, or criticise its decision to freeze aviation taxes? Do you take the continued "greenest government ever" pledge at face value, or despair of a government that cuts fuel duty rather than invests in green transport alternatives?
From a green business perspective this is a scatter-gun Budget from a government in a hurry. It is the antithesis of joined-up government, attempting to drive investment in low-carbon infrastructure and get us "off the oil hook" at the same time as attempting to hold down the price of oil and aviation. It is the "blackest budget in living memory", as George Monbiot claims, but it also contains some of the greenest policy measures ever introduced in the UK.
Green groups have responded with an unsurprising howl of outrage, criticising Osborne's underpowered green commitments at almost every turn. It is worth remembering that outrage is the default position for NGOs and given the current economic climate, there remains plenty for green businesses to welcome.
Most notably the green investment bank has the potential to emerge as a transformational force within the low-carbon economy. It is disappointing that it cannot raise additional funds through borrowing and when both the CBI and Friends of the Earth think it should be a proper bank with the power to borrow, it is clear the Treasury is on the wrong side of the argument over the need to avoid adding debt to the national accounts. But £18bn is not to be sniffed at and if the bank is well structured and well managed, it could provide a wide range of innovative loan guarantees and insurance services to low-carbon projects that would otherwise falter. Moreover, the bank should have built up a track record of successful investment when it does start to borrow in 2015, just at the point when the real heavy lifting begins for the low-carbon economy.
Similarly, the carbon floor price is nowhere near high enough to drive investment in low-carbon energy, but today's announcement puts the mechanism in place and provides investors with the certainty they have been seeking. Yes, there are problems with windfall profits for nuclear operators and increased energy bills for the fuel poor, but on balance the floor price offers a boost to the low-carbon economy.
Some rather arcane changes to tax rules also hold out the prospect of positive news for green businesses. Reforms to company car tax will make it even more financially attractive for firms to operate the greenest fleets possible, while changes to the Climate Change Levy and Climate Change Agreements promise to deliver further sweeteners to those firms that effectively curb their carbon emissions.
Meanwhile, wide-ranging commitments to boost the number of apprenticeships and overhaul planning rules should help address the low-carbon skills gap and make it a little easier for renewable energy projects to get the go-ahead.
And yet, it is hard to shake a sense of what might have been. As the Green Alliance's Matthew Spencer put it, this is a Budget filled with promising green policies that are held back by the "dead hand" of the Treasury. Even allowing the green investment bank to borrow a relatively small amount during the early years would have been better than forcing it to wait five years to do what all other national infrastructure banks are allowed to do. If international law would have really stopped a per-plane aviation tax, why not test that law rather than meekly fold? After all, other countries have managed to push through innovative noise taxes despite protests from airlines. If the government has to hold down the price of motoring, what about similar measures to tackle the soaring price of public transport?
But the worst aspect of the Budget for green businesses and investors is the mixed messages. Should the greenest government ever really cut green taxes in the form of fuel duty while offering no new funding for low-carbon alternatives? Should Treasury mandarins be seen to comprehensively win a row with the Department of Energy and Climate Change over the green investment bank ambitions? Why is the government quietly watering down its zero-carbon homes policy? Symbolism matters, and in this respect the green symbolism coming from the Budget is extremely poor.
This Budget crystallises everything that we already know about the government's green agenda: plenty of good policies and an over-arching commitment to the low-carbon economy that is completely undermined by a crippling lack of urgency and a tendency for some ministers to pull in the opposite direction.
None of this will matter to those green businesses desperate to develop more sustainable business models – looming climate risks and oil at $116 (£71.40) a barrel will make sure of that. But sadly Osborne's multitude of contradictions has made it that little bit harder for green pioneers to drag the rest of the economy along with them.
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