Analysis

Boris Johnson’s 10-point climate plan is a promising start, but key details remain unclear

Daisy Dunne assesses the merits of the prime minister’s bold new plan to tackle climate change – from recycled old pledges to ambitious new proposals

Thursday 19 November 2020 19:11
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<p>Boris Johnson stands beside a tree he planted in 2008, as part of an initiative during his tenure as London mayor</p>

Boris Johnson stands beside a tree he planted in 2008, as part of an initiative during his tenure as London mayor

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big financial boost for tackling emissions in Britain’s homes and electric cars, and a ban on the sale of new petrol vehicles by 2030. These are among the more exciting elements of Boris Johnson’s new 10-point climate plan, the first details of which were set out this evening.

However, environmental analysts and campaigners said that key “gaps remain” in Mr Johnson’s new plan, which is aimed at marking “the beginning of the UK’s path to net zero” ahead of its role as host of next year’s UN climate talks, according to the government.

“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,” the prime minister said this evening.

“My 10-point plan will create, support and protect hundreds of thousands of green jobs, whilst making strides towards net zero by 2050.”

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Mr Johnson repeated a pledge made in October to produce enough offshore wind to power every home by 2030.

He also confirmed earlier reports that the UK will end the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030. This is 10 years earlier than previously planned. In addition, the government is to end the sale of hybrid cars by 2035.

The 2030 pledge puts the UK ahead of France and Spain and in line with Ireland and the Netherlands. The only country with a more ambitious target is Norway, which plans to end the sale of new petrol vehicles by 2025.

“As the second largest car market in Europe, an early UK phase-out date will cause ripples well beyond our national borders,” said Dr Jonathan Marshall, head of analysis at the non-profit Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU).

“With the majority of the two-million-plus cars sold in Britain being imported, a strong signal to the market will likely catalyse action elsewhere – an essential signal ahead of COP26.”

The government pledged £1.3bn towards improving the infrastructure for electric cars in the UK. Wider adoption of electric cars in the coming decades will be key to reducing emissions from transport, one of the UK’s most polluting sectors.

“Now we need to ensure the funding for charging infrastructure is used effectively to roll it out right across the UK, along with mandates for manufacturers to ramp up electric vehicle production, and support workers to retrain and reskill,” said Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace UK.

Mr Johnson also pledged £1bn towards improving the energy efficiency of Britain’s homes.

Homes currently account for around 15 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions largely come from the use of oil and gas for heating. Improving home insulation and pursuing new technologies for heating could go some step towards reducing emissions from homes.

“Strong support for cleaning up transport, industry and home heating – areas long ignored by the government – will help deliver on the urgent need to cut emissions shared by people in all corners of the UK,” said Dr Marshall.

He also pledged an additional £200m of new funding to help the UK create two “carbon capture clusters” by the mid-2020s. These developments are a new type of infrastructure aimed at helping the UK to develop carbon capture and storage, a still-emerging technology that could help to reduce emissions by removing CO2 directly from air.

“Carbon capture clusters will help us to decarbonise industries such as cement, chemicals, oil refining and iron and steel,” Dr Nem Vaughan, a senior lecturer in climate change at the University of East Anglia, told The Independent.

“This infrastructure is also an essential part of greenhouse gas removal technologies such as direct air capture. Greenhouse gas removal technologies, along with establishing more woodlands and changing how we manage our land, are likely to be needed to compensate for difficult to decarbonise sectors like agriculture and aviation.”

A site in Doddington, Northumberland, is prepared for tree planting in March 2018

However, there are noticeable gaps in Mr Johnson’s plan. It does not mention any new measures to boost onshore wind or solar, renewable sources of electricity which could play a key role in reducing emissions from the power sector in the coming decades.

“Onshore wind and solar energy remain unsupported,” said Dr Marshall.

In addition, “nature” only gets a brief mention in Mr Johnson’s new plan. Mr Johnson said he would “protect and restore our natural environment” by planting 30,000 hectares of trees every year.

However, this is a repeat of a pledge he first made in his election campaign in 2019. It has since been repeated by the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, in his March budget.

“Investing in locking up carbon by restoring habitats such as peatlands must be a top priority and receive substantially more investment than that already committed,” said Beccy Speight, chief executive of the RSPB.

Mr Johnson also committed £525m to “help develop large and smaller-scale nuclear plants”. Speaking to The Independent last week, researchers said any new large nuclear projects approved in the UK could come at a high cost and may take years to deliver low-carbon electricity.

“At the moment, the timescales of developing new nuclear power are still very long for the large reactors,” Professor Jim Watson, an energy systems and policy researcher at University College London, told The Independent.

“So any new stations Boris Johnson might announce from now on are not going to generate electricity until the end of this decade at the earliest.”

Mr Johnson’s new climate plan also makes mentions of technologies that are yet to be proven at a commercial level. Mr Johnson said he would invest in “supporting difficult-to-decarbonise industries to become greener through research projects for zero-emission planes”.

He has previously faced criticism for making “unrealistic” claims about electric air travel, which is still in its infancy and yet to be commercially proven.

In addition, Mr Johnson pledged £20m “for a competition to develop clean maritime technology”.

However, earlier today, the UK was among countries to vote to allow carbon emissions from the shipping sector to keep rising for another decade. On Tuesday afternoon, the UK voted to approve an amendment to weaken short-term emissions rules for ships at virtual talks held by the UN’s International Maritime Organisation.

John Maggs, president of the clean shipping coalition, told The Independent: “Why on the same day as it announces a 10-point climate plan that includes the maritime industry, did the UK vote in favour of a proposal at IMO that allows CO2 emissions from the shipping industry to keep rising for the next decade?”

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