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19 November 2020

How to announce nothing new in a 10-point plan – Boris Johnson-Style

After an abundance of three-part slogans since the start of Covid-19, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has gone one step further in his announcement of a 10-point plan, which outlines his vision for a Green Industrial Revolution, which he claims would place the UK at the leading edge of the fight against climate change.

But this ‘vision’ is far from visionary. Instead, he’s repackaged and reheated a bunch of previously aired policies. Even those that we’ve not heard before aren’t hugely progressive by European standards and will not propel the UK ahead after its divorce from the EU is finalized in January. It certainly won’t place the UK in a leading position at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow next year.

Announcing the strategy, Johnson stated “Although this year has taken a very different path to the one we expected, I haven’t lost sight of our ambitious plans to level up across the country. My Ten Point Plan will create, support and protect hundreds of thousands of green jobs, while making strides towards net zero by 2050.”

Before delving into the ten points, let’s start with the headline figures. The plan aims to inject £12 billion into the greenest parts of the UK’s economy, facilitating the creation of 250,000 jobs. However, only £4.6 billion of this funding can be identified as new, with all of the rest coming from aggregating existing schemes.

With the country’s unemployment rising at its fastest rate since the financial crisis in 2008, the premise of this is a prime example of how decarbonization offers an economic opportunity, while tackling the largest issue of our generation.

But why stop at 250,000? It’s estimated that roughly one-third of the £12 billion will go towards job creation. If you look at this purely as an economic decision, the investment equates itself to £16,000 per job created. In the UK, the median salary is just over £30,000, with a tax rate of 11.8% applying to this. This means that each of these jobs returns £3,500 to the UK government every year, and that in five-years, the government will have more than recovered its initial £4 billion towards job creation in taxes alone. Even if you consider the full £12 billion, a payback time of under 14 years is still a solid investment by government standards.

The plan also aims to accelerate private investment in this green sector three-fold by 2030, hoping to revive the former industrial heartlands in the North East, Yorkshire, West Midlands, Scotland and Wales that were so important to Johnson’s election last year. Let’s have a look at each point in the plan individually – only six of which include new investment (Points 2, 3, 4, 6, 7 and 8).

1.) Offshore wind: Producing enough offshore wind to power every home, quadrupling how much we produce to 40GW by 2030, supporting up to 60,000 jobs.

This is a prime example of just slinging in a ready-made policy into the mix; Rethink reported on this promise in early October. The pipeline is already in place for this level of capacity, providing the government doesn’t go out of its way to block projects like it has done in the past with projects like Inch Cape (784 MW) and Neart Na Gaoithe (450 MW), and has looked like it might with the 2.4 GW Hornsea Three project due to wildlife concerns. The key here is what the government does for offshore wind beyond 2030, and in facilitating transmission lines such as East Link, which is being developed by SSE, ScottishPower and the National Grid.

2.) Hydrogen: Working with industry aiming to generate 5GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030 for industry, transport, power and homes, and aiming to develop the first town heated entirely by hydrogen by the end of the decade.

Credit where it’s due: this is new, and it’s the first time we’ve seen the UK government put a figure on production capacity for hydrogen, with £240 million of investment. But the 5 GW, with a 1 GW interim target for 2025, is significantly less than promised by France (6.5 GW), and has no firm commitment to solely ‘Green’ hydrogen from renewables. Instead, ‘blue’ hydrogen could be a way of keeping the country’s gas industry alive, through backing unproven CCUS projects. As far as the hydrogen-powered town goes, projects like Northern Gas’ H21 Leeds City Gate and Cadent’s HyDeploy are already making significant tracks toward making this possible on a wider scale.

As one of the new areas of investment, the government plans to inject £500 million into hydrogen, including for domestic trials with heating and cooking – something that was demonstrated recently at DNV GL’s Northumberland Testing and Research facility. Starting with a hydrogen neighborhood in 2023, plans will scale this to a hydrogen village by 2025 and then a hydrogen town at the end of the decade.

3.) Nuclear: Advancing nuclear as a clean energy source, across large scale nuclear and developing the next generation of small and advanced reactors, which could support 10,000 jobs.

Boris Johnson has always been a big fan of nuclear, but this has been the most heavily criticized point in the plan. While £215 million of the £525 million is set to go towards reviving Rolls Royce’s terminal decline through its Small Modular Reactors, much of the rest is likely to go towards pushing the 3.2 GW Sizewell C project into development. If anything like Hinkley Point C, with a cost of electricity that is 75% more expensive than the UK average, then the UK taxpayer will be footing the bill for these white elephant projects for as much as 60 years.

4.) Electric vehicles: Backing our world-leading car manufacturing bases including in the West Midlands, North East and North Wales to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles, and transforming our national infrastructure to better support electric vehicles.

Arguably the most promising statement in the plan. With transport nearly accounting for 40% of UK emissions, this has been backed up with a further acceleration of the nation’s ban on new sales of petrol and diesel cars AND vans by 2030 – ahead of previous deadlines of 2040, and more recently 2035. The sales of hybrid vehicles, however, will continue until 2035, under the current plan. It has recently been made clear that hybrids are among the MOST polluting of any type of vehicle.

This plan is stronger than seen by most of the UK’s European allies, with France, Spain, Ireland and the Netherlands all aiming for 2040. Only Norway is more ambitious, with a ban coming into play in 2025.

This has also been backed up by £1.3 billion to accelerate the rollout of chargepoints in England, with £582 million in grants for the purchase of ultra-low emission vehicles. With the UK offering a purchase grant of up to £3,500 for electric cars, this could help deploy over 150,000 units nationwide. Nearly £500 million will also be spent by 2024 to create manufacturing hubs in the Midlands and North East for EV batteries.

One downside is that there was no inclusion of a phase-out date for diesel HGVs, with a consultation currently ongoing.

5.) Public transport, cycling and walking: Making cycling and walking more attractive ways to travel and investing in zero-emission public transport of the future.

This is particularly vague and feels more like an add-on than anything else. The policy is essentially an echo of those announced earlier this year, with £5 billion of investment for greener ways of travel including cycling, walking and buses, which, at the time, came with £5.2 billion for coastal restoration and flood defenses by 2027.

6.) Jet Zero and greener maritime: Supporting difficult-to-decarbonize industries to become greener through research projects for zero-emission planes and ships.

This is another area where the UK government appears fairly lost, as it continues to move forward with plans including £20 million for a competition to develop clean maritime technology, such as feasibility studies on key sites, including Orkney and Teesside. Hardly a sign of promising progress.

7.) Homes and public buildings: Making our homes, schools and hospitals greener, warmer and more energy efficient, while creating 50,000 jobs by 2030, and a target to install 600,000 heat pumps every year by 2028.

Another recycled policy that has merely been extended, and not even by much. £1 billion has been earmarked by the UK government to make new and existing homes and public buildings more efficient, as part of the previously announced Public Sector Decarbonization Scheme. Rather than anything new, this funding will simply extend the Green Homes Grant voucher scheme by a single year.

8.) Carbon capture: Becoming a world-leader in technology to capture and store harmful emissions away from the atmosphere, with a target to remove 10MT of carbon dioxide by 2030, equivalent to all emissions of the industrial Humber today.

We’ll save our opinions of carbon capture for another day, but either way, it’s still a hugely speculative technology. The £200 million that the government will now inject into two carbon capture clusters by the middle of the decade, brings its total investment in the projects to £1 billion – the first £800 million being announced last December. With these being developed by carbon-intensive companies like Equinor, Drax and BP, proceeds from this investment will end up in the pockets of oil coffers – and in turn will not significantly accelerate the UK’s transition.

9.) Nature: Protecting and restoring our natural environment, planting 30,000 hectares of trees every year, while creating and retaining thousands of jobs.

Effective forest management is by far the most cost-effective way of combatting climate change, with tree planting lying at its heart. It’s easy to think that 30,000 hectares of trees every year is a lot, but it really should be accelerated further. If this plan runs for ten years, planting 300,000 hectares of trees, then the annual CO2 removal from these trees will be around 60 million tons – over 17% of the UK’s total emissions.

10.) Innovation and finance: Developing the cutting-edge technologies needed to reach these new energy ambitions and make the City of London the global center of green finance.

Maybe it’s not that catchy to publish a 9-point plan, but the only statement that backs this up is a plan to encourage a three-fold increase in private investment in green industries. This is something that the government will have very little control over without implementing measures like aggressive carbon pricing, which is missing entirely from the plan. On the day that the 10-point plan was announced, Johnson held a virtual roundtable with green investors, which has hopefully pushed things in the right direction.

Overall, these measures are not enough. The government has estimated that the plan will save around 180 million tons of CO2 by 2032 – only just enough to close in on the legally binding target of 55% reduction in this time frame to cut total emissions by 80% by 2050 – so not in line with the 2050 net zero target.