20 pledges for 2020: This year, I'll be holding Boris Johnson to account on the climate crisis

The prime minister must explain how his government is going to tackle the global warming emergency - and he needs to do it soon

Rob Merrick
Thursday 16 January 2020 16:05 GMT
Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street for PMQs at the House of Commons on 15 January 2020
Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street for PMQs at the House of Commons on 15 January 2020 (Getty)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Anyone pondering a climate-saving pledge to give up flying, stop eating meat or buy only ethical products may feel daunted – but they pale next to the commitment made by Boris Johnson.

The prime minister must explain how his government is going to end the UK’s contributions to global heating altogether and – although that will not happen until 2050 – he needs to do it soon.

He has David Attenborough and his own climate change advisers breathing down his neck and an international conference on the subject in November, when he will be humiliated if he is seen to have failed.

Now, you might imagine that is focusing Mr Johnson’s mind, but there is little evidence that the man intent on delivering Brexit and on public-pleasing domestic policies is paying much attention.

As the independent Committee on Climate Change pointed out, the UK is missing existing legal targets for cutting carbon emissions in the 2020s and 2030s – yet has now promised ‘net zero’ by 2050.

Thus far, the prime minister’s only contributions to the debate have been dodging a TV grilling – when he was replaced by an ice sculpture – and an intention to pursue the pipe-dream of nuclear fusion.

So, while I will eat less meat, use public transport instead of the car and pay over-the-odds for energy from renewable sources (don’t tell Mrs Merrick!), my pledge is to watch the government like a hawk.

We can expect a blitz of policy announcements as the clock ticks down to ‘COP26’ in Glasgow, in November, but will they cut the mustard? The necessary measures – ending sales of petrol and diesel cars, replacing gas boilers, cutting meat from diets – will be hugely expensive and potentially unpopular, in a country that will be poorer after Brexit.

My suspicions have already been aroused by the admission that a decision on funding will not come until that autumn? How much worth will promises have without hard cash behind them? How hopeful can we be that Tory hearts are in it when the party pocketed more than £1m in “dirty money” from investors in fossil fuels during the election campaign?

Scrutiny must also stretch to the opposition parties which must resist the temptation to capitalise on a voter backlash if the measures are right, but unpopular.

After the hottest decade on record, the heat must be put on the politicians – and The Independent will be doing just that.

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