Under intense scrutiny the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling presented his budget today. It is welcome that the Chancellor reiterated the Government’s climate change objectives by committing to a 34 per cent cut in carbon emissions by 2020 – this is still on the low side but better than what the Government were planning earlier in the year. The Chancellor also earmarked a further £520 million of new support for off-shore wind farms and £435 million for energy saving measures.
Meanwhile the budget report contains some interesting detail not mentioned in the Chancellor’s statement. The Defra budget will be clipped by £381 million, including an additional £75 million on top of the savings outlined in the Pre-Budget Report delivered autumn. Whilst it is not clear what the precise implication of these cuts will be, there is a marked risk that Defra and its agencies could be starved of the funding needed to protect the natural environment. It could also result in what is already a ‘cinderalla’ department becoming more and more marginalised in the Government machine.
The budget statement brings into focus the uncertain economic climate both domestically and internationally. However, an economic crisis should not hide the perilous position our natural environment is in: the Government concede that it will fail to meet their target to halt wildlife loss by 2010. This should be of concern to us all as the natural world provides a range of invaluable services including improved air and water quality and majestic green spaces for relaxation, reflection and recreation. One of our most valuable assets, ancient woodland, pre-dates this crisis but the demands for infrastructure continue to put pressure on this habitat. Let us hope that actions to alleviate this particular economic crisis do not come at the expense of ancient woodland and the wider environment.