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Fiscal costs of climate mitigation programmes in the UK: a challenge for social policy?

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This paper asks whether the policies and programmes enacted to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the UK will compete with other goals of public policy, in particular social policy goals. The Climate Change Act 2008 has set the UK some of the most demanding targets in the world: to reduce GHG emissions (compared with 1990) by at least 80% by 2050 and by at least 34% by 2020 – just nine years away. A wide array of climate change mitigation policies (CCMPs) have been put in place to bring this about. Will these compete fiscally with the large public expenditures on the welfare state? We address this question by surveying and costing all UK government policies that have a climate change mitigation objective and which are expressed through taxation, government expenditures and government-mandated expenditures by energy suppliers and other businesses and which are directed toward the household sector. Our conclusion is that expenditures on CCMPs are tiny – around one quarter of one per cent of GDP - and will not rise significantly. Within this the share of direct spending by government will fall and that obligated on utility companies will rise. Green taxes are also planned to fall as a share of GDP. There is no evidence here of fiscal competition between the welfare state and the environmental state. However, the use of mandated electricity and gas markets will impose rising costs on the household sector, which will bear more heavily on lower income households and will increase ‘fuel poverty’. Thus demands on traditional social policies are likely to rise. More radical policy reforms will be needed to integrate climate change and social policy goals.

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