Mini-budget fell far short of promoting low-carbon future for UK

The chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, has announced that the effective ban on onshore wind farms is to be lifted, and the poorest households will regain access to insulation and energy efficiency measures.

Polls show that onshore wind is popular, with more than 70% of people supporting it. Jess Ralston, a senior analyst at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said: “The ban on onshore wind has been a major anomaly in British energy policy given it’s both cheap and popular with the public. So a decision to lift the ban suggests [Kwarteng] has listened to the experts and understands building more British renewables reduces our reliance on costly gas and so brings down bills.”

The measures will help to boost renewable energy generation and keep thousands of people’s homes warmer in the next three years. But they were virtually the only concrete low-carbon policies in a mini-budget that promised an estimated £60bn over the next six months to the UK’s energy companies, to protect consumers against higher bills, and rewarded North Sea oil and gas producers with the prospect of 100 new licences. Experts say the latter would do nothing to improve the current energy crisis, and threaten the UK’s net zero greenhouse gas emissions target in years to come.

The biggest gap was on home insulation. Kwarteng confirmed that £1bn over three years would come from energy suppliers to be spent on the most vulnerable consumers. Much of it will go on loft insulation and in some cases boiler replacements that are expected to save thousands of people on low incomes about £200 a year.

This still leaves no provision for the vast majority of the UK’s estimated 19 million households in need of home insulation. Amy Norman, a senior researcher at the Social Market Foundation, pointed out that as the government was paying energy producers directly, the lack of a home insulation policy was affecting its own balance sheet and the UK’s overall fiscal stability.

“The amount of energy people use is no longer just a private matter, but now one of fiscal responsibility. With every unit of energy consumed now costing the taxpayer, it is regrettable that the government has done nothing to encourage demand reduction that could save families and the government money,” she said. “It is a pity that a short-sighted refusal to do anything that might be seen as telling people what to do has got in the way of building a cheaper and more secure system.”

Cutting stamp duty was another missed opportunity, experts said. It could have been done with “green strings” or incentives such as rebates attached. Louise Hutchins, the head of policy at the UK Green Building Council, said: “There is growing support for an ‘energy saving stamp duty incentive’ because it would reward households for insulating their loft and walls, installing double glazing or installing a heat pump right at the time when they are most likely to be upgrading their property anyway – within two years of purchase. The scheme could be revenue neutral for the government or be linked to additional support for struggling households that most need help with insulating their homes.”

There was also no move to claw back any of the huge costs of the government’s energy policy from the companies that are reaping a bonanza from soaring prices. Rebecca Newsom, the head of politics at Greenpeace UK, said: “Failing to properly tax the obscene profits of fossil fuel giants and encouraging bankers to get richer is reckless and unfair.

“Rather than seeking to deregulate and attack those on benefits, the new chancellor should be looking for ways to raise taxes on those profiting from the crisis. This could help fund emergency support for households and cover the vital investment needed in home insulation to help cut our energy bills and climate emissions once and for all.”

Taken alongside the government’s tearing up of environmental regulations in the name of post-Brexit reforms, the outlook for the UK’s climate targets and protection of nature was dim, said Kate Norgrove of WWF, with damaging impacts on the economy.

“If the government is serious about boosting the UK economy it needs to stop blowing hot and cold on tackling the climate and nature emergency,” she said. “The only route to a growing and resilient economy is to invest in net zero by scaling up renewables, insulating our homes and supercharging the shift to nature-friendly farming. Anything less would be a betrayal of people and the planet.”