Footprint Comment: Osborne’s call to mediocrity

George Osborne declared last week ‘Let’s at the very least resolve that we’re going to cut our carbon emissions no slower but also no faster than our fellow countries in Europe’. To put this into context under the Climate Change Act, the government is legally bound to cut Britain’s carbon emissions by 34 per cent by 2020 whereas the rest of the EU has only committed to 20 per cent. The question begs whether he was appealing to an electorate in fear of fuel poverty, signalling support for SME’s preparing for a host of green taxes, or was simply trying to instil serenity into the manufacturing sector? Whichever the case, it does seem an odd call to mediocrity in environmental endeavour, from a government that stated its ambition to be the greenest government ever.

As a nation we reduced our carbon output by only 3 per cent between 1990 and 2006, which highlights how far we have yet to go. This in conjunction with the Chancellors statement last week, does seem juxtaposed to captains of industry showing huge commitment to the environment. This is best illustrated when CEO’s of global conglomerates publicly commit to a carbon reduction of 40 per cent, as Unilever’s Paul Polman did. “It is a big ambition,” he said. “It scares us. But it is no good if you are comfortable about it. It scared the Americans when John Kennedy said he wanted to put a man on the moon within 10 years, but they did it.” Polman’s public commitment reflects a willingness of sectors to go the extra mile particularly prevalent in foodservice and the grocery retail sector. Maybe Osborne does subscribe to the Brownian principle of spending his way out of trouble. In this case using carbon reduction targets as currency?