The Chancellor acknowledged that a decade of environmental laws had been piling unnecessary costs on households and companies, adding that Britain was not going to save the planet by putting ourselves out of business.
He was referring in particular to the Climate Change Act, famously passed by the House of Commons in October 2008 by 463 votes to three, even as the snow was falling outside. By the Government's own estimate, it would cost £404 billion to implement – £760 per household every year for four decades.
The Act included a voluntary commitment to reduce Britain's carbon dioxide emissions to 80 per cent of their 1990 level by 2050 – a target generally acknowledged to be achievable only by shutting down most of the economy – in an effort to demonstrate 'global leadership'.
The lunacy of this commitment can be demonstrated by the fact that neither China nor the US – who together produce 40 per cent of global emissions compared with our two per cent – are committed to such draconian reductions.
Instead Mr Osborne suggested last week that we follow the EU, whose members agreed in March 2007 – as one of Tony Blair's final acts of hubris – to a 20 per cent emissions reduction by 2020. The European Commission is still discussing a 'road map' for its 2050 target, putting the UK at a huge competitive disadvantage.
But while Europe is taking a relaxed view of climate change, Britain seems to have excelled in devising more and more bizarre ways of bankrupting the nation. In December 2008 the Government's Committee on Climate Change, chaired by Lord Turner of Ecchinswell, recommended that we should switch from eating beef and lamb to 'less carbon-intensive types of meat'.
Within 11 years, the committee said, it wanted to see 40 per cent of all the cars on Britain's roads powered by electricity. That very week it was reported that in the first ten months of 2008 just 156 were bought, fewer than half the 374 in the same period of 2007. That made a grand total of 1,100 on the road in Britain.
It also insisted no more coal-fired power stations should be built unless they could be fitted with 'carbon capture', funded by a levy on energy bills which would raise £3 billion from hard-pressed consumers.