Environmental Law News Update

March 12, 2020

In this latest environmental law news update Charles Morgan and Christopher Badger consider environmental promises in this week’s budget, effects on the environment from the coronavirus and a new report that says net zero by 2050 is possible.

The Budget

Amongst the £30 billion pledged to help the country respond to the coronavirus epidemic, the 2020 Budget identified some key environmental promises. This is a marked contrast to recent Budgets, particularly just a couple of years ago when the word environment was barely mentioned.

Some of the pledges include:

• A Carbon Capture and Storage Infrastructure Fund has been set up with the aim of establishing two UK CCS sites, one by the mid-2020s and a second by 2030;
• A Green Gas Levy is to be introduced, to encourage more environmentally-friendly ways of heating homes and other buildings;
• Significant investment is to be placed into electric vehicle charging infrastructure, which aims to ensure that drivers are never more than 30 miles from a rapid charging station, provide £532 million for consumer incentives for ultra-low emission vehicles and reduces taxes on zero emission vehicles.
• Entitlement to use red diesel is to be removed, save for agriculture, fishing, rail and non-commercial heating;
• 50 hectares of trees are to be planted, the equivalent of an area the size of Birmingham;
• There is to be a tax of £200 per tonne on plastic packaging that contains less than 30% recycled plastic;
• £700,000 is provided to establish the Extended Producer Responsibility Scheme;
• The Climate Change Levy on gas in 2022-23 and 2023-24 is to be raised, whilst the rate on electricity is to be frozen, in order to encourage businesses to operate in a more environmentally-friendly way.

The absence of significant tax increases means that the promises made in this Budget are to be largely funded through increased borrowing. And this isn’t a Budget that has pleased all green groups. Greenpeace have already criticised the Budget for the fact that it promises an additional £27 billion for road infrastructure improvements, which it claims shows the Government is “driving in the opposite direction”. The environmental impact assessment of that particular policy may take some digesting.

The Budget can be found here

If it’s any consolation …

Putting the potential human cost of the coronavirus to one side for the moment, there seems little doubt that the epidemic may have positive benefits for the wider environment. Despite the minor increase in domestic water consumption which may result from more frequent and prolonged handwashing, the increase in the discharge of pollutants into the sewerage system and the Starbucks ban on reusable cups, the huge slowdown of human travel and economic activity must constitute a significant nett benefit. The load upon the sewerage system of Venice and its receiving waters must have been dramatically reduced by the absence of tourists, in a manner which will surely prompt some interesting investigations as to the ability of the local ecology to recover from the heavily modified state of affairs imposed upon it for so many decades by relentless visitation in numbers at times dwarfing the resident population of the City Centre.

Yesterday’s Guardian newspaper carried a headline “Coronavirus could cause fall in global CO2 emissions”, the underlying article making the point that such a result can thus be achieved very quickly when perceived needs must. China’s emissions of CO2 are reported to have fallen by up to 25% and those of NO2 to almost nothing. The fear is, however, that the race to catch up when the economy returns to normal will rapidly negate any temporary benefits.

There was also an interesting juxtaposition of front page headlines in the Independent two weeks ago: “UK’s chief medical officers says … major sporting and cultural events are at risk” and “Huge crowds expected in Bristol for Greta Thunberg visit”. Discuss.

And a new report says net zero by 2050 is possible

A new report by Energy Systems Catapult has found Net Zero by 2050 is possible with support for innovation and scale-up across three essential areas – Low Carbon Technology, Land Use and Lifestyle.

This is a government-funded research group whose computer models are apparently used by the Committee on Climate Change

The key points identified in the report include:

• Net Zero narrows the potentially viable pathways for the future of our energy system in a way that the 80% target did not;
• Success depends on innovation in technology, land use change and behaviour;
• Carbon capture and storage and bioenergy are essential;
• A new low carbon hydrogen economy has to be created;
• Electricity generation will have to double or even treble;
• Advanced nuclear power, including small modular nuclear reactors, has to be developed;
• Meat and dairy consumption must significantly reduce. Estimates appear to vary between a 20 and 50% reduction.

The report can be found here

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