Yet with just days to go before the opening of the most important climate talks for years, the words climate and nature did not pass his lips in any meaningful way. It’s hard to know what he bases his optimism on when he had almost nothing to say about the greatest challenge of our age.
Had he looked at the calendar? Cop26 is due to begin on 31 October. He mentioned that he would be there, meeting fellow finance ministers: one wonders what he is going to tell them he is doing on the climate emergency, because on the basis of this Budget, he will be going into that meeting almost empty-handed.
Trust was already in short supply ahead of Cop26, as his cabinet colleague and Cop26 president Alok Sharma has said, repeatedly. Sunak has made Sharma’s job even harder.
This was his chance to show that the Treasury gets the climate and nature crises and is prepared to back the action needed. Instead, he cut air-passenger duty on domestic flights, making flying cheaper – the very flights where there is often the alternative of travelling by rail.
He also cancelled the planned rise in fuel duty, while confirming investment in new roads, so turbo-charging the trend over the past few years of making driving and flying cheaper while rail journeys get more expensive.
Boasting about the City of London’s leading role in green finance does not make up for his utter failure to make the crucial investment needed for a sustainable future.
We heard more about duty on beer, wine and spirits than the climate crisis. Perhaps we are all supposed to drown our sorrows as extreme rainfall floods our homes.
No one should be fooled about the chancellor’s “generosity” to the NHS, the education budget (the £5bn for educational recovery is barely a third of what the government’s own catch-up tsar recommended) or levelling up. Most of it is merely undoing the damage done under the savage austerity of his Tory predecessors. The pupil funding just takes schools back to where they were in 2010.
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More than once, the chancellor talked about focusing on the people’s priorities. Survey after survey shows that people want action on the climate emergency. A recent report from Demos, based on the input of a nationally representative sample of 20,000 people, showed strong support for a carbon tax on polluting businesses, better integrated public transport, and increased flying costs, among other proposals.
Whatever plans the government has to address the climate and nature crises are being held back, in fact stifled, by a chancellor who sees climate action as a cost, not a vital investment that would improve people’s quality of life with warmer homes, cleaner air and cheaper, more reliable public transport.
For all the millions of people wanting bolder, more ambitious and faster action on the climate crisis, this Budget didn’t launch a new “age of optimism”. It was a step back into a past we urgently need to leave behind.
Caroline Lucas is the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion