Green Taxes, reports gathering dust, and polluters that should pay

I decided in October last year to “blog” about the environment and have posted articles almost every day since then. I called this “Ideas for the Environment” because ideas about improving life sometimes turn into real improvements and without the ideas there will be no improvements. I have been pressing for governments to make polluters pay for their pollution (including their excessive carbon dioxide emissions) since 2002, offering a range of ideas from council tax adjustments for those installing microgeneration, to income tax deductions, and higher fossil fuel energy taxes for householders, and a range of other measures. 

There was a brief moment of hope when Nicholas Stern published his report in 2006, commissioned by Gordon Brown who was then in charge of the Treasury, that the government had finally got hold of the plot. Mr Stern’s report.  Since then Mr Brown has become Prime Minister, Mr Darling (who in my view and in the view of many others involved in the renewable industry introduced a flawed Low Carbon Building Programme which slowed down the impetus that the microgeneration industry was building up) became Chancellor of the Exchequer.  

Today the Stern Report gathers dust on Whitehall shelves and takes up hard drive space on servers around the country. Mr Brown and Mr Darling have been distracted from the long term aims of government by short term events, not least the problems at the Northern Rock Bank, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and reactions to budgetary proposals to tax the wealthy more, which if we are led to believe the wealthy, would lead to then all leaving the country on the next plane offering first class for better places to live. 

Taxation is probably the only way of making the polluter pay but any government that increases taxes hands a golden propaganda coup to its opponents, so a careful and fair approach has to be made. It should be a step by step process. It is not.

Instead we see environmental reasons given by various government departments for things that have nothing to do with making polluters pay, and everything to do with raising money by means that are not direct honest taxes. 

The House of Commons has an Environmental Audit Committee, which has just criticised the Treasury (CEO Mr Darling) for showing no signs of implementing the Stern Review. Apparently “green” taxes have declined as a proportion of all taxes from 9.7% in 1999 to 7.6% in 2006. 

Now the Government will point to the various sums of taxpayers’ money that they are laying out on green measures, but as I have already pointed out these are paltry even in comparison with expenditure on items like Members of Parliament’s expenses. I suppose that it is possible that Alistair Darling will pleasantly surprise us in the budget on 12th March and announce a whole raft of green taxes.

I can confidently predict (and I hope I am wrong) that he will simply fiddle with the edges of the issue rather than take it head on. 

On the brighter side I am now working on a call for evidence about renewable heat from Mr Benn, the Environment Minister. I have studied the questions that this call for evidence poses and I think that it indicates that the government not only do not understand the problems but they have incorrectly weighted the solutions. 

Mr Benn states in the document calling for evidence that he wants us “to contribute to the Government’s understanding by providing relevant evidence and inquiries whether and what further policies might be needed.” I will do my best to help him, but does he really want my help?

He wants answers by 31st March. I am sure that he will get plenty of evidence from the solar thermal industry much ignored in this country but a key driver in all other developed countries. I hope that the evidence we submit does not lie on Whitehall shelves gathering dust or on hard drives of government servers, filed for the posterity that we seek to protect.   

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