Betteridge’s law of headlines is a rule that isn’t particularly well known outside of journalism circles, but it’s one that can easily be applied in this circumstance. It argues that in any headline where a question is posited, said question can be answered simply with ‘No’.
When chancellor Philip Hammond takes to the despatch box on Wednesday afternoon to deliver his maiden – and final, owing to a change-up in the government’s accounting calendar – spring budget, the majority of attention will be focused on how he intends to steer the economy as Brexit looms. Any residual headlines might be swallowed by the emerging social care crisis and how the chancellor might eke out a few extra billion quid to help solve it.
But there’s a far deeper subplot at play, and it’s one that only stands to be ignored.
Last year’s spring budget was a relatively quiet one for the clean economy. Hammond’s predecessor George Osborne had already laid waste to many renewables sectors in the months previous, and there wasn’t much ‘green’ to announce. The end of the carbon reduction commitment and plans for a replacement (which are still to be confirmed), and a further £790 million for offshore wind CfDs, were the only policies with a clean tinge to be unveiled by the man with the green axe.
But times are different now. Hammond has replaced Osborne at the helm of the May government's finances and for all the talk of Brexit dominating much of that government’s time and effort, the looming emissions reduction plan stands to be a pivotal piece of legislation.
May’s industrial strategy, launched earlier this year, also placed clean growth as one of its central “pillars”, perhaps offering an indication of just how serious May’s team was to take on the task of decarbonising the economy. Indeed, combining the UK’s energy and business departments into one body paved the way for such a strategy to be forged.
Progress since then has predictably stalled. The emissions reduction plan is now nearly three months late with little sign of an imminent publication. The BEIS select committee signalled last week that it expects the document to be published by the end of this month at the latest, while Tory MP James Heappey found himself embroiled in a war of words with the department after suggesting it might be pushed back until the summer.
Hammond is not expected to offer much of an update on Wednesday, but would be well served to acknowledge its pivotal role in shaping the future of the UK’s economy.
The pressure on him to do as such is mounting from all sides.
WWF was straight out of the traps this morning, insisting that Hammond must address climate resilience in his budget if the UK is be taken seriously on the world stage. Even the most ardent Leave campaigner would have to admit that a messy divorce from Europe poses a significant threat to the economy, but it would be nothing compared to the damage climate change could cause.
And that’s without even embracing the economic benefits various clean energy sectors have created (some £83.4 billion in 2014 alone, according to the Office of National Statistics) and the drastic need to begin work on a smarter, future-proof energy system capable of evolving with consumer demand.
The UK could well need some good news and few industries remain so adeptly poised at delivering that than low carbon ones. Hammond would do well to tap into those if he’s in need of a feel good factor among the tax increases purportedly being prepared for Wednesday’s big reveal.
But with the government still seemingly stuck in the Brexit quagmire, it’s difficult to see anything other than Betteridge’s law ringing true once again.