Defra (Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), the British government department in charge of environmental issues, is facing £300 million cuts in areas which are concerned with climate change.
Agencies tackling recycling, energy saving, nature protection, carbon emissions and safeguarding the environment have all been targeted.
In recent years the UK has struggled to meet its target on carbon reduction set by the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, further cuts in this area will reduce its chances of making a considerable difference even further.
The cuts come as a result of the build up in major disasters which have threatened the UK in recent years. These include the foot and mouth outbreak, which is still not totally under control, and the blunders over payments to EU farmers. All EU farmers are subsidised by the EU by a system known as CAP (Common Agricultural Policy). It represents about 44% of the EU’s budget (€43 billion scheduled spending for 2005). The CAP guarantees a minimum price to producers, imposes import tariffs and quotas on certain goods from outside the EU and provides a direct subsidy payment for cultivated land. In 2006, Defra failed to pay a large potion of British farmers their subsidy, as a result this left many farms on the verge of bankruptcy.
Initially there will be £130m of imminent cuts, followed by a further £140m savings, this is in addition to the 5% year-on-year cuts on administration costs. The cuts are said to affect every part of Defra’s agencies, and will include job losses. Thankfully, new money will be available for flood protection following the summer flooding in Gloucestershire, although this won’t be paid for another three years.
The majority of the government’s schemes to reduce carbon emissions are set to be scaled down or dropped. Many have seen this as a major U-turn, especially after the Treasury listed climate change as its top priority.
There have also been reports that Natural England, the Defra body which protects places and wildlife, is set to cut its budget by 30% for new conservation work. Many environmentalists see this especially as a major step backwards for conservation in the UK. How this has been able to happen, especially alongside the Bali Climate Conference is a difficult question. Any new deal which the UK agrees to must put pressure on the current government spending. The likely outcome is a marked increase in all air travel and carbon emitting vehicles in order to meet the deficit in funds.