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Duty of care

Duty of care

UK fuel tax has been frozen for a decade, and tomorrow’s Budget is unlikely to change that. But who is pushing for it to stay low?

Long stories short

  • The US approved the $8 billion Willow oil drilling project in Alaska, despite concerns about its severe impact on wildlife and climate.
  • The UK is expected to announce £20 billion in funding for carbon capture and storage in this week’s Budget (more below).
  • River levels across the UK hit record lows last month, raising concerns about drought this summer.

Duty of care

A group of MPs campaigning against fuel tax rises has failed to publicly declare any expenditure since 2018, raising questions about transparency.

The All-Party Parliamentary group on Fair Fuel for Motorists has published two reports in that time that question the science and cost of the government’s incoming 2030 ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles. Both were paid for by campaign group FairFuelUK, the Road Haulage Association, the Alliance of British Drivers and others. The group has not disclosed the fees paid for either report.

Parliamentary rules state that APPGs must register any benefits received if the total value of the benefit from that source exceeds £1,500 in a calendar year. 40-page thinktank reports of this kind would typically carry a five-figure price tag.

So what? Fuel duty is the biggest carbon tax in the UK economy. The Fair Fuel APPG has a decade-long track record of lobbying the Treasury to keep it frozen; this year that will cost £6 billion. Yet the group is opaque about its funding.

Priti Patel, who joined the APPG last month, told Tortoise: “Fuel duty is part of the low-tax agenda. Howard [Cox, FairFuelUK’s founder] and I go back a long way on this issue… I’m here to stand up for my constituents and hard pressed British motorists.”

Last year Patel disclosed £140,000 in donations from Andurand Ventures, led by oil trader Pierre Andurand, and two executives at Geoquip Marine, which supplies offshore services to energy companies. She refused to comment on whether this constituted a conflict of interest, given her support for further cuts to fuel duty.

The pushback against fuel taxes, combustion engine bans and clean air zones also take their toll on both planetary and human health. By the numbers:

60 – per cent of car sales that need to be electric by 2030 in order to reach net zero, up from 10 per cent in 2021, according to the IEA.

21 – per cent increase in harmful nitrogen dioxide levels in inner London had the Ultra-Low Emission Zone not been introduced in 2019.

385,000 – premature deaths per year, globally, linked to vehicle tailpipe emissions, according to the ICCT.

£27 billion – cost to the UK Exchequer over the next five years of making the current freeze in fuel duty permanent.

Flooding the zone. More recently FairFuelUK, which provides support services for the APPG, has pushed back against the expansion of London’s Ultra-Low Emission Zone. Lewisham East MP Janet Daby accused the group of attempting to manipulate a consultation on plans to expand the zone in London after 5,000 emails using a pre-filled template bearing the Fair Fuel logo were sent in.

Low emissions zones are also becoming a gripe for MPs in the APPG. Asked how he’d respond if a low emissions zone was introduced his own constituency, Jonathan Gullis MP said: “Well, I can’t glue myself to the road, but I’d certainly chain myself to a lamppost to make it clear that the motorists of this country shouldn’t be punished for the car they own.”

Net zero mutiny group. Craig Mackinlay MP, chair of the APPG, is also chair for the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, a parliamentary group set up to question the cost of net zero. One of his aides, Ruth Lea, is a former director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a campaign group that denies climate science. Lee Anderson, the newly appointed deputy chair of the Conservative Party who claims the public are “sick to death” of net zero, is not a current member but attended a meeting of the group last week.

Following the publication of a report in 2021, two Labour party members left the APPG after finding out their names had been attached without consent. One of them, Mary Glindon MP said: “I was completely unaware of the group’s report… there are specific things in the report and its recommendations that I cannot support and with which I do not wish to be associated.”

Howard Cox, the founder of Fair Fuel UK, said that the value of the staff time Fair Fuel UK is donating to the APPG in the current reporting year did not constitute a registrable benefit, as it is under £1,500. He did not provide an expenditure statement.

As the cost of living crisis bites and electric vehicle sales temporarily slow, the forces pushing for politicians to renege on net zero will inevitably become more vociferous. Taxing the carbon that runs through society was never going to be easy, but it needs to be done in order to shift economies away from planet-warming fossil fuels. Final thought: Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, notes that ending this year’s £6 billion subsidy for motorists would leave the Chancellor space to give public sector workers a pay rise.


Widening Gulf

Gulf states think the West is transitioning away from fossil fuels too quickly and oil will be needed for decades to come. As Saudi Aramco reported record profits of $161 billion for the last year, the company said it will raise capital spending from $38 billion in 2022 to between $44 billion and $55 billion this year. Oil demand is forecast to surge this year as China reopens. Long-term, Aramco is doing little to prepare for a low-carbon world; it was late to set sustainability targets and they are minimal. The FT reports two UK pension funds will vote against the renewal of directors at BP and Shell unless the companies strengthen their commitment to tackle emissions. But Joe Biden’s decision to approve the Willow project in Alaska is the strongest signal yet that government concerns about energy security are trumping climate.


Clearing the air

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is essential to meeting net zero targets, but the industry’s history is littered with failure. Tax incentives in the US Inflation Reduction Act have prompted a renewed surge of interest in CCS there. This week, the UK will offer its response with Jeremy Hunt due to announce £20 billion of CCS investment spread over two decades. The government’s new energy security strategy is also expected to promote the development of small modular reactors. What’s still needed: an acceleration of the planning process for wind farms, which contributed over a quarter of Britain’s power last year.


Tide of dross

Before 2005, there were roughly 30 trillion plastic particles floating in the ocean. By 2019, that number had increased to 170 trillion. That’s the key finding of a study in PLOS ONE that charts the exponential rise in ocean microplastics. More worrying is what’s to come: researchers found that without immediate action, the rate of plastic flowing into the sea is expected to more than double between now and 2040. Clearly, plastic is not just a problem that needs to be cleaned up – but one that needs to be limited at its source. United Nation member states adopted a resolution to end plastic pollution last year, but current policies still place the onus on consumers to recycle, rather than producers to reduce.


Storm warning

California is being hit by a succession of “atmospheric rivers” – long and thin storm systems that bring exceptional quantities of rain and snow. Storms like these are projected to increase in frequency with climate change, and they already inflict about $1 billion of economic damage annually in the western US. If the world warms by 3C, average damage is expected to increase to about $3 billion annually, according to researchers in California and New Zealand. Increasingly, it’s going to be hard to insure against the costs of these disasters, and communities will need to adapt to a changing planet.

Thanks for reading.

Barney Macintyre

Additional reporting by Jeevan Vasagar.

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