Friday March 13, 2020

The new Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has delivered the first Budget since the UK set its 2050 Net Zero target last year. The previous Chancellor, Sajid Javid, had promised a “green” Budget, however the current health crisis caused by the spread of COVID-19 had cast doubts on how much time Mr. Sunak would spend on energy and the environment.

Below, we highlight key announcements:

Carbon reduction schemes

The government announced a Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Infrastructure Fund to establish CCS in at least two UK sites. One by the mid-2020s and a second by 2030. CCS is a technology that involves the capturing of carbon dioxide emissions created by fossil fuels during energy generation. The CO2 can then be transported and stored safely.  There are currently no operational commercial CCS facilities in the UK to date. However, there are a small number of pilot projects currently in development.

The Chancellor also announced a Green Gas Levy, designed to help fund the use of greener fuels. This is in effort to encourage more environmentally-friendly ways of heating buildings through a new support scheme for biomethane. In addition, the Budget stated that the government will increase the Climate Change Levy (CCL) that businesses pay on gas in 2022/23 and 2023/24 (whilst freezing the rate on electricity). It will also reopen and extend the Climate Change Agreement (CCA) scheme by two years.

Further announcements saw the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme extended for  two years until March 2022. This is alongside a new allocation of flexible tariff guarantees to non-domestic RHI in March next year. The government said these efforts would “provide investment certainty for the larger and more cost-effective renewable heat projects”.

Electric vehicle infrastructure

Road transport is currently responsible for approximately one fifth of all UK emissions. To reduce this the government has announced investment in electric vehicle charging infrastructure with aims that “drivers are never more than 30 miles from a rapid charging station”.  The government will invest £500 million over the next five years to support the rollout of a fast-charging network.

The government is still considering the long-term future of incentives for zero-emission vehicles alongside the 2040 phase-out date consultation. In the meantime, £403 million will be provided for the Plug-in Car Grant, extending it to 2022/23, with a further £129.5 million to extend the scheme to vans, taxis and motorcycles. In addition there will be an exemption of zero emission cars from the Vehicle Excise Duty (VED).

Natural environment

The Budget has announced a Nature for Climate Fund, which will invest £640 million in tree planting and peatland restoration across England, representing the coverage of an area greater than Birmingham over the next five years. Additionally, the announcement of the Nature Recovery Network Fund and the Natural Environment Impact Fund will each provide avenues for environmental restoration and sustainable development.

Future reading

In the build-up to the COP26 Climate Summit, to be hosted in Scotland later in the year, HM Treasury will publish two reviews. One into the economic costs and opportunities associated with reaching Net Zero and the other into the economics of biodiversity.

In summary

Reactions to the Budget have been a mixed bag. It’s been cited as simultaneously the greenest modern Budget to date and a missed opportunity regarding the larger climate picture. The government has announced a number of positive policies that will begin to pave the way for the Net Zero transition. However, the decision to freeze fuel duty for the tenth year in a row and investment of £27 billion into new roads will be regarded as counter-productive to ambitious targets.

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