Own up Tony – you don’t give a stuff about the environment

The Labour government’s record on mitigating the environmental damage caused by transport has been lamentable and is getting worse.

That has become clearer as each successive Budget has failed to increase motoring taxes at the rate of inflation, let alone at the faster rate required to reverse the trend.The failure to do so is all the more galling because the only time that the growth in traffic volumes slowed was after the introduction of the fuel tax escalator by the Tories, a measure initially not only supported by Gordon Brown but increased from 5 to 6%.

Unaccountably, he then abolished the escalator in 2000, even before the fuel tax protestors took to the barricades, and since then has paid no heed whatsoever to the environmental damage – the negative externalities, as he would call them – caused by transportOne could mention the extra £30 per annum in vehicle excise duty for 4 x 4 vehicles in announced in the last Budget, but that would only reinforce the case for the prosecution. After all, the piddling little extra tax not only applies only to new cars, but £30 doesn’t even cover half the cost of a tank of fuel for these gas guzzlers, so is hardly likely to influence any prospective purchasers.

The fact that this pathetic measure was widely hyped in pre-Budget leaks to journalists merely reinforces the view that there is no coherent government strategy on transport and the environment.Proof of this, if any were needed, is the decision not to include transport in the government’s climate change programme. The document Climate Change, the UK Programme 2006, published at the end of March by the government, confirms that carbon emissions from transport had risen by 2004 to 10% above 1990 levels, and the government has no plans to attempt to reduce that level by the target date of 2010.

The government says it will ‘work with vehicle manufacturers’ to improve fuel efficiency. But given the enormous rise in gas guzzling 4 x 4s, this is a meaningless commitment which does not even masquerade as a coherent policy.Of course, with the growing Iran crisis boosting oil prices to the 70 dollar per barrel mark, events may conspire to achieve emission reduction targets but Labour could hardly claim any credit (but they will!).

The only other effort to reduce emissions from transport mentioned in the document is the encouragement of biofuels, but even here the government’s policy has been tentative and slow in relation to the growing evidence of the damage caused by climate change.

The predictions of transport emissions do not even include international air transport which is growing much faster than its long term trend rate of 3% per annum thanks to low cost airlines and stimulated by the government’s ‘predict and provide’ policy outlined in its aviation White Paper published two years ago.

Alistair Darling, the Transport Secretary, has repeatedly said that it is not up to the government to try to influence modal shift as between, say, airplanes and trains even though the latter are much more environmentally friendly. This is not even paying lip service to a policy on transport and the environment.Tony Blair, in fact, gives it all away when he says that however well we behave towards the environment, the UK represents only 3% of the world’s emissions of greenhouse gases. The implication is that we make no difference and, therefore, there is no point bothering. It is rather like saying that it is OK to steal from supermarkets because other people do.

Well, Tony, if that’s the case, why not spell it out, so that the Jeremy Clarkson’s of this world can vote for you and the rest of us will take your views on the environment into account when we head for the ballot box.