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19 December 2019

Boris called upon to bring climate issues to top of UK agenda

Let’s face it, freshly elected British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, is not a fan of climate change, but he has managed to change his stance on a good many things over the years, and he has been kicked up the backside the moment the election was over, by his own Committee on Climate Change. They have told him that if he wants a gaff free climate change summit a year from now, Johnson had better start this parliament with some actual policies which show global and European leadership.

While the UK has done fine job on the subject of converting electricity from coal, towards a combination of renewables and natural gas, it has hit something of an impasse on policy.

Johnson knows so little about acceptable climate change theory that he elected not to attend a candidate’s debate on the subject, so that his personal ignorance would not alert a nation to a potential weakness of his leadership. The TV station holding the debate put up an ice statue in his place which then proceeded to melt all over the studio.

Johnson in the past has also been associated with the brother of his arch-nemesis, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, one Piers Corbyn, a known climate change denier who should not be allowed to have any influence at all in national climate policy. So that link must be well and truly severed. Johnson has also in the past seemed sympathetic to fracking, but during the election campaign said he would ban it, but only after pressure over earthquakes, not because he realizes it releases poison into the atmosphere.

Which is why Lord Deben, the chair of the government Committee on Climate Change quango has immediately written a letter to the Prime Minister this week, reminding him that in one year as host to COP 26 in Glasgow, he needs to be able to stand up and claim that Britain has surged into the lead on tackling climate change.

The advice is that so far, the UK has fallen short of what is required and that there are easy wins to be had on policies around buildings, transport, industry, and agriculture. The UK is probably doing well enough on electricity, although more could be done, as long as Johnson does not hang about on his offshore wind promises.

The UK has said it will lead the world on offshore wind, building this out from our count of 9.4 GW by the end of 2019 to a conservative promise of 40 GW by 2030, a target the government seems almost certain to miss by a couple of years, unless some permitting tasks can be accelerated, or the government can change some regulations regarding permits.

This is the issue we have said time and time again – policy alone, which costs nothing, can solve issues like buildings, transport, industry, and agriculture – rules such as all new buildings must have electric powered heating, all industry above a certain size must run on renewable power by a certain date, all cars must be electric after 2030 (instead of 2040) – they can all now be passed by this government, and later it can choose to spend. Spending could focus on building efficiency, and converting older homes to be heated by electricity, and this could keep the truly contentious issues at bay for a while.

The conservatives – under the guidance of the Committee on Climate Change – has said that 30% of electricity can come from nuclear and 30% from natural gas using carbon capture. We know that small nuclear reactors are at least 10 years off, and that carbon capture does not work, but this is perhaps because the climate change committee has a single cuckoo in the nest, in the form of a carbon capture adherent from Drax. Drax is one of the largest coal and gas generators in the UK, which also uses biomass, which is slightly less carbon spewing than coal. It has long talked up the benefits of carbon capture and yet its experiments with the technology have never managed to remove more than 10% of the carbon from its smoke.

Having a representative from Drax, the largest polluter in the UK makes absolutely no sense on the committee on climate change – in the form of Dr Rebecca Heaton, a policy expert, not a technology expert. But that’s not Johnson’s fault.

Lord Deben’s letter called for a mix of public spending, market mechanisms, and regulations to kickstart meaningful emissions reductions.

“As host of next year’s UN Climate Summit in Glasgow, the steps we take in the next 12 months will also have a lasting global impact,” he added. “In this Parliament, the UK must get on track to delivering net zero emissions, and adapt to the climate-related changes we are experiencing. We have a unique opportunity to define the 2020s as the decade of delivery against legally-binding targets set by Parliament – meeting the ambitions of the Conservative election manifesto.”

Johnson has said that he will form a cabinet committee on climate change, led by himself, which will create a concrete plan. So far Johnson has pledged money to cold fusion, a technology which is 50 years away and can have no influence in the fight for climate change, instead of showing that he understands the policies needed to make a difference.