Like an alcoholic, Boris Johnson has declared he’s giving up fossil fuels – just not yet

Like a “reformed” alcoholic stashing gin in his drinks cupboard, Johnson is promising to end Britain's fossil fuel habit while continuing to guzzle them

 

Greta Thunberg accuses countries of misleading people with seemingly 'impressive' climate pledges

Last week, Boris Johnson delivered his Queen’s Speech and like an alcoholic, declared he is giving up fossil fuels – but just not just yet. Unlike most alcoholics who declare they will give up the demon drink as their new year’s resolution, however, Johnson has said he will not give up his vice until New Year’s Eve 2050. In the meantime, he is indulging it with abandon.

How can a prime minister be taken seriously who states in the same speech that they will “continue to lead the way in tackling global climate change” and promising the North Sea oil and gas industry a “transformative” deal? Mind you, the genius of Johnson and Trump is that they no longer need to be taken seriously, only to maintain the backing of right-wing media oligarchs. With such backing, in fact, a lack of seriousness can be seen as a plus.

The Queen’s Speech naturally made no changes to the 2016 Energy Act, the same that set up the Oil & Gas Authority (not to phase out these climate-destroying industries, you understand, but to hasten their economic recovery). Likewise, no end was announced to the government’s exclusion of the UK’s onshore wind and solar industries from its Contract for Difference scheme, the main way it supports low-carbon electricity generation.

The aviation industry was also popping the champagne corks at the government’s new Air Traffic Bill, whose purpose is to ensure airports across the UK can greatly expand their capacity (or, as Johnson put it, “to support growth and maintain our position as a world leader in aviation”). Last year, Britain collectively took more flights than any other country in the world: 126.2 million, totalling 8.6% of all international travellers, despite comprising only 0.86% of the global population. While half of the UK population did not take a single flight last year, the 10% of jet setters who take half of all UK flights can continue to sip their first-class cocktails in the knowledge that Johnson has not proposed any frequent-flyer taxes, unlike the three main opposition parties.

The Queen’s Speech boasted about how the government was phasing out coal-fired power stations by 2025. This is genuinely positive, as coal is the highest source of carbon emissions in the energy industry. However, the speech made no mention of the fact that Johnson’s government is also giving the go-ahead to one of the biggest new coal mines in Europe, the Woodhouse Colliery in Cumbria. Johnson is beginning to resemble Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull who, despite his country being in flames, backs the new Adani coal mine. If you closed down the UK economy for a year, you would not have saved as much carbon emissions as the Woodhouse Colliery will, if allowed to open, emit over its lifetime.

In other misleadingly good news, the government also announced a £1.8 billion annual fund for energy efficiency for homes and public buildings, which, like their promises on police and nurses, merely takes us back to roughly where we were pre-austerity (Tory cuts to home energy efficiency reduced insulation installations by 85% since 2014).

Many of the main carbon reduction measures actually proposed all involve the usual kowtowing to corporate lobbyists. Billions of pounds will be spent on yet more eye-wateringly expensive nuclear white elephants like Hinkley Point, including a fantasy commercial fusion plant “by 2040” and the ever-promised economic carbon capture technology – classic Johnsonian vanity projects, à la the Garden Bridge.

The speech did include the one measure that all party manifestos supported: a large increase in tree-planting. Of course, this measure threatens no corporate or consumer vested interests, and so is relatively pain-free. Even Murdoch’s Sun can hardly complain about restoring beautiful woods to the UK’s sheep-crammed hills.

Another positive measure was a new ocean clean-up fund, but that came with a sting in the tail: the sum will come from the overseas aid budget, earmarked to help the poorest in the world, but which will now pay for cleaning up the pollution caused by the richest.

Finally, the Queen's Speech tactically avoided repeating Johnson’s election pledge to continue diesel and petrol duty cuts, with another £20bn in cuts proposed over the next five years. It did, however, boast about the billions to be invested in road-building (not a single was pledged for what we actually need: a national cycleway).

So ignore all the chest-thumping virtue-signalling about net-zero carbon by 2050 – this Queen's Speech was an orgy of fossil-fuelled binge drinking. In 2050, our kids will be waking up with a colossal hangover as the floods of Yorkshire, bushfires of Australia and droughts of sub-Saharan Africa become the norm.

That is, unless the efforts of climate strikers start to translate into civilisational change.

Donnachadh McCarthy is an environmental auditor, campaigner and author of ​The Prostitute State – How Britain’s Democracy was Hijacked.

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