The Government’s pledge to reduce environmental “red tape” must not be a smokescreen for stripping away vital protection for people’s health and the countryside and allowing growth at all costs, MPs have warned.
The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) raised concerns the Treasury saw the environment merely as a cost or block to economic development, and warned the move to reduce more than 10,000 pages of regulations to help businesses comply with environmental laws should not throw out sensible rules “in a desperate dash for growth.”
Ministers also appeared to be putting little priority on moving to a “green economy” and have failed to set out a long term vision or “roadmap” to making the UK economy more sustainable, the MPs said.
And they warned that the whole economy needed to be green, as current patterns of growth were unsustainable, and traditional sectors would need to be transformed.
The Government has placed no new requirements on businesses to be more environmentally sustainable, instead favouring a market-led approach focused on voluntary action and relying on consumer demand to drive green growth.
But the latest report from the EAC warned that this approach will not work, and urged ministers to introduce measures including mandatory reporting of greenhouse gas emissions by big businesses, which the Government has delayed bringing in.
The Prime Minister, who two years ago pledged to lead the greenest government ever, should put green growth at the heart of plans to revive the UK’s economy, the committee’s chairwoman Joan Walley said.
The green sector, which covers industries such as renewable energy, is estimated to be growing at 4 per cent a year, outstripping the rest of the economy.
Ms Walley said: “The Government promised a roadmap to a green economy, but two years in it seems to have stalled and we risk slipping back to business-as-usual.
“Rising global demand for commodities and fossil fuels mean that prices will continue to rise in future so it is incredibly short-sighted of the Treasury not to give businesses clear incentives to use resources in a smarter way.”
And she said: “The Treasury seems to see environmental regulations as nothing more than costly red-tape, but what we are talking about here are vital laws to give us clean air, safe food and a thriving countryside.
“If this process reduces bureaucracy and improves outcomes, as the Government claims, then we will support it.
“But it would be irresponsible to get rid of sensible regulations in a desperate dash for growth and we will be watching ministers very carefully on this.”
Luke Wreford, economic policy officer at WWF-UK, said: “This strong criticism of Government foot-dragging on the green economy comes in the same in the week that it emerged that William Hague himself has written personally to the PM to say exactly the same thing.
“The call is now coming from across the party, from inside government and from business to stop the Treasury blocking green growth and get on with policies that our economic competitors have been doing for years.
“Far from putting British companies out of business, environmental policies may well be the saving of them.
“Leading businesses are already crying out for measures such as mandatory carbon reporting and policy certainty for the development of the renewable energy sector.”
Friends of the Earth’s economics campaigner David Powell said: “MPs have exposed the Government’s green economy promises as little more than a few vague ideas and wishful thinking.
“Our economy desperately needs fresh ideas - while the UK dithers our competitors are reaping huge financial benefits by developing green goods and services.
“The Chancellor must end his hostility to the green economy - it’s bad for jobs, bad for business and bad for Britain.”