As the Coalition Government attempts to reform the UK’s finances, fatal spending cuts have continued to penetrate the environmental sector. Despite boasting plentiful resources in marine, offshore wind, solar and other forms of renewable energy, significant cuts announced by the Government this week risk the UK loosing out to countries with poorer natural resources, but an increased willingness to invest in renewable energy.
Plans to cut the energy R&D budget by £34m, announced last week, delivered a massive blow to the low carbon technologies sector, particularly for technologies including offshore wind, geothermal energy, wood fuels and building insulation. Ironically, the announcement came just days before the Government’s independent Committee on Climate Change publically stressed the continued need for public support to develop emerging renewable energy technologies – suggesting a minimum of £50m of public money each year.
Chris Goodall highlights that these cuts to the R&D budget represent a reduction of total public expenditure on low carbon technologies by almost 20%. He adds that “this figure is on top of the cancellation of the £80m loan to Sheffield Forgemasters that would have paid for much of the installation of a new press to make the huge parts necessary for new nuclear power stations.”
Goodall suggests that the Government’s plans will diminish Britain’s ability to compete in the global energy race. The cuts also bring the UK’s spending on emerging technologies to an internationally low 0.01% of GDP – 3 times less than the US and 9 times less than Japan (as a %age of GDP).
Furthermore, there is increased speculation about plans to axe the Government’s independent sustainability watchdog, the Sustainable Development Commission. Whilst no official decision has been made, an announcement is expected to be made – ironically – on the day the agency plans to unveil its annual report detailing green improvements to government operations, which would deliver savings of tens of millions of pounds.
Whitehall has announced some significant spending cuts over the last few weeks, and the cuts to low carbon and renewable technologies are likey to have particularly riled environmental stakeholders. Prime Minister David Cameron is going to have a big task on his hand if he wants to prove to UK taxpayers that his Government will be the “greenest government ever.”