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Darling budget fails to paint Brown government green

Greenpeace sees red, despite hopes for 1m envirojobs

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Budget 2008 Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling outlined several green-pleasing moves in today's budget, but postponed a fuel-duty increase which had been strongly supported by environmental campaigners.

Seeking to present the Brown government in as eco-friendly a light as possible, Darling said he would "ensure the UK continues to lead the climate change agenda internationally".

He pledged that from next year, the government would present a "carbon budget" alongside its regular budget projections and plans. Continuing with the carbon-financial theme, Mr Darling said that the UK was already the primary world marketplace for trade in carbon credits, and that this would be encouraged by auctioning of large electricity producers' entire carbon allowances - subject to EU approval. At present only seven per cent of the allowances are auctioned, which offers a chance of polluters making windfall profits on free carbon allowances.

Other green measures included higher car taxes in the first year for high-emissions vehicles, and reductions for cleaner ones. There was also £20m to encourage greener (that is, lower-carbon) homes, and incentives for so-called "zero-carbon" buildings.

However, the much-anticipated 2p rise in fuel duty from April was postponed until October, a move sure to arouse some ire among greens. But Mr Darling pledged that duty differentials for biofuels would be replaced by a Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation from 2010, which would provide a better incentive for truly sustainable biofuels. There was also money for research, and it was promised that the government would further "explore" low-carbon technologies and road pricing plans.

Regarding aviation, the government confirmed that airlines would now be taxed per plane rather than per passenger beginning next year, in a move seen as emphasising environmental costs of flying. It was also announced that aviation taxes would go up by ten per cent in 2011.

Finally, Mr Darling said that if retailers didn't take action to curb use of plastic shopping bags the government would do it for them.

If "sufficient progress" is not made by the end of this year, a charge on plastic bags will be levied. The money will go to "environmental charities", presumably including organisations such as the Greenpeace Environmental Trust. This might help to achieve Mr Darling's stated ambition to have a million British jobs generated in "environmental industries" over the next 20 years.

Predictably perhaps, the budget measures were not green enough for some. The Lib Dems' Nick Clegg cast doubt on the government's environmental commitment, saying that the real cost of motoring would continue to fall and that of using public transport would continue to rise.

Benet Northcote, Chief Policy advisor to Greenpeace UK, said the budget was not green but "dirty brown". ®

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