UK Spending Review – what does it mean for sustainability?

THE UK is on track to miss its 2020 and 2030 carbon reduction targets, says the Guardian, despite an increase in windfarm installations and attempt at widespread retrofit, The Green Deal, which so far has not logged a single full completion.

The Spending Review has just announced by Chancellor George Osborne. £969m is going to sustainability projects abroad – wind turbines in Africa and greener farming methods in South America – but what about sustainability programmes at home in the UK? The decision to continue with foreign aid of this kind, and on this scale, is controversial.


For: Security is “impossible without development”, and plays a “moral and pragmatic” role in the UK’s “economic, military and diplomatic strategy”. – Andrew Mitchell, former Development Secretary.

Against: “We’re giving £240 million quid to India and they’ve got a Formula One Grand Prix and a space programme. We need to wake up and smell the coffee. This isn’t about not helping people who need our help. We’re a rich country relatively and when there’s disaster relief needed, fabulous. Britain’s great at that. But let’s just get some sense into this.” – Baron Jones, former Labour Minister.


The Investing in Britain’s Future plan is hoped to drive £100bn of infrastructural investments in high-speed rail, nationwide broadband, flood defences and low carbon energy such as nuclear, renewables and shale gas, which is now reported to be twice as plentiful as previously thought, although extraction is controversial* and is years away from being possible.

*’Fracking’ is said to be irresponsible environmentally, and possibly causes earthquakes.


The Investing in Britain’s Future plan was presented to the House of Commons but is still just an announcement, and industry is calling for government to “Get it on the statute book as soon as possible” (Katja Hall, CBI).

The Green Alliance is arguing that the green investment outlined in the plan will increase UK GDP by 0.7%, which may sound underwhelming, but that ending investment in sustainability will lower GDP by 2.2%. This is a telling portrait of how sustainability is becoming the only sensible long-term option for governments.


“No other sector is equal in scale to the British power market, in terms of the opportunity that it offers to investors, and the scale of the infrastructure challenge. Our reforms will renew our electricity supply, attracting up to £110bn investment in a mix of clean, secure power and demand reduction, and will support up to 250,000 jobs up and down the supply-chain. – Ed Davey, Secretary for Energy and Climate Change.


Meanwhile, energy body Ofgem has made its own timely announcement – this time a warning – that the UK’s energy supply is increasingly vulnerable, and will be insecure in the coming years. Fossil fuel imports are at an all-time high, increasing by around 10% year-on-year.

The announcement of the Investing in Britain’s Future plan is basically a promise. It promises significant investment in infrastructure, but as yet there has been no detail on how the investment will be divided. It is possible, and this is the predictable fear among proponents of sustainability and energy independence, that there will be meagre investment in renewables compared to, say, high-speed rail and shale gas extraction, which favours business and the energy companies.

In short, it is possible this announcement will just continue business as usual. As Andrew Pendleton of Friends of the Earth says,

“Today’s deluge of announcements can’t wash away the fact that the Government is failing to deliver the clean energy transformation we need for our economy and environment. Instead George Osborne is betting the farm on fracking – over-hyping its potential and lavishing it with tax breaks, whilst slashing environmental regulations.”


Author: David Thomas writes for British sustainability blog The Eco Experts. He interviews and profiles businesses and individuals doing their own interesting thing in the area of sustainability, cleantech and circular economics.


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Hello, I'm David. I write about energy efficiency and about the solar industry for websites and The Eco Experts. Skips rope and eats bread.

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