Anyone not lucky enough to be British, will have no doubt had some experience of listening to Boris Johnson, the UK Conservative Party darling and front runner in the leadership elections, but this week he has surpassed himself in a column in the Daily Telegraph. If you are British, then you have had far too much of Boris already and within 6 weeks he may be our Prime Minister – god help us.
Johnson is, like Donald Trump, not a politician to be taken seriously on the subject of climate change or much else for that matter. Boris has, on innumerable occasions, put his foot in his mouth, and comes across as an amiable buffoon, not quite detailed enough in his pronouncements to be accurate, but not so wide of the mark as to be talking utter nonsense.
The thrust of his piece is that the UK is doing quite well in climate change, because of British ingenuity. While I have a lot of respect for the electrical generation industry in the UK and the way it has embraced renewable energy, this comes down to copycat legislation from Europe in subsidizing renewables, and creating an obligation for energy operators to use them; the UK cannot claim to have contributed in any scientific way to being one of the front runners among the larger European economies in decarbonizing.
We use Danish, Portuguese, French, US, Spanish and German technology in most of our infrastructure – many of the UK energy companies are owned by parents from the rest of Europe, and much of the technology is supplied by them also. When it comes to solar panels, they are almost all Chinese. Just where British innovation comes in we’re not sure.
We do know however that Carbon Capture and Storage (CSS) is being researched at British Universities, mostly by overseas trained professors, despite that fact that no instance of CSS working at scale exists and quite a lot of theory says it can never reach scale; and that nuclear plants, which form a solid pillar of Conservative policy despite no existing designs being economic, will be designed in the US, France or China if anywhere.
What the electrical community in the UK is good at is a) sticking to the rules, if it says it will decarbonize then everyone gets behind the idea (except for BP of course) and b) Being quite clever with organizing the grid so that it can accept more renewables (although this may actually use British designed technology at its heart, one of the very few instances).
Boris lets UK interests take the credit for the cost of solar power falling by 70% in the UK (over the last ten years) although UK LCOE (Levelized Cost of Energy) is higher on both Wind and Solar than the rest of Europe, mostly because there is more profit taking, and huffing and puffing over needed more subsidies.
Johnson even used a famous quote from a German Audi car advert “Vorsprung durch Technik,” loosely translated as “progress through technology” and claims a lead for the UK. He completely misses the irony that Siemens Gamesa a German owned business based in Spain, contributes more of the technology of the UK’s renewables, than any single British company.
He goes on to make the point that it is all about “the power of the market” that has made this happen, not the nanny state. He is so wrong. Left to its own devices oil, gas and coal would still be in the drivers’ seat. Subsidies and government regulation were needed through the last 20 years to allow renewables to thrive. Today the market may well take over again, and that’s a message that Rethink Energy would agree with, because wind and solar are now healthy enough to compete on price with the fossil fuels. But it was subsidies and government intervention that got renewables into that position, as much the previous Labour government as the current Conservative one. Most of this was accomplished with legislation copied from Germany and other Europeans, who in turn took their ideas from Denmark and Norway, which both remain seriously ahead of the UK in their use of renewables. (Norway is likely to make it to 100% renewables before any other country in the world). The UK began a feed in tariff in 2008, a full year behind most Europeans.
The final Boris message is that we can still be the cleanest, greenest society on earth and yet go for strong economic growth. In his conclusion he has stumbled on a genuine truth, but only because prior governments took the steps required to help make renewables viable.
He finishes with promises to provide clean water, clean power, deal with soil erosion, and increase crop yields – but his solution is “just believe” in the market. Presumably by very quietly using the same tactics used to stimulate renewables, tax concessions, subsidies, and legislation – quite a lot of intervention for a non-interventionist party which believes in big business to embrace.
Meanwhile DeSmog, the organization that unfrocks client change denialism, has pointed out that Johnson gets a lot of his climate change ideas from the Piers Corbyn, brother of Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who is an astrophysicist who regularly speaks at climate science denial events who is also listed as a Clexit member, a group who says we should all get out of the Paris Climate Agreement, who’s founding statement is “The world must abandon this suicidal Global Warming crusade. Man does not and cannot control the climate.”