Boris Johnson Lays Out U.Ok. Plan for a ‘Inexperienced Industrial Revolution’
LONDON – Five years after deciding to stop using coal, the UK took steps on Wednesday to eliminate some of the country’s largest remaining greenhouse gas emission sources and announced plans to end and end sales of new gas and diesel cars within a decade change the way people heat their homes.
The plans are expected to be a core part of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s efforts to put pressure on other countries to cut their emissions in the run-up to the major climate negotiations that the UK will host next year. And they were an early signal to President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. that Britain and the United States might find a common cause despite the looming Brexit riot against which Mr Biden spoke out.
Climate activists cited the announcement as the UK’s most ambitious move towards protecting the planet since it decided to end its use of coal, but questions about parts of the plan remained.
It relies on technologies – like using hydrogen to heat homes – that have been oversold with caution by some analysts. The total level of investment is well below the $ 10 billion in climate-related spending recently pledged by Germany and France. And some analysts said the plan didn’t do enough to encourage companies to invest in clean energy jobs in the UK.
“Successive UK governments have done an excellent job ensuring our country quickly switched from coal and gas to clean electricity sources,” said Joss Garman, UK director of the European Climate Foundation. “But this announcement from the Prime Minister is really the first time we have seen a similar ambition to curb pollution from cars and house heating.”
It remains to be seen whether the government is ready to spend enough money to achieve its ambitious goal of zero carbon emissions by 2050.
For a country where electric vehicles account for less than seven percent of new car sales, Mr Johnson’s decision to ban sales of new gas and diesel vehicles by 2030 sent a strong signal to consumers and manufacturers. (In a small concession to Toyota, which makes some hybrid cars in Central England, the UK will allow some hybrids to be sold through 2035.)
To help move to electric vehicles, Mr Johnson said the government would spend £ 1.3 billion, or $ 1.7 billion, to install charging stations and hundreds of millions of pounds of consumer grants to make the cars more affordable do.
Even so, analysts said the government had not done enough to support the production of electric vehicle batteries, which posed a major challenge for an automotive industry that employed 166,000 people in the UK as of 2018. The UK’s exit from the European Union has already led to investments in the EU to overthrow the auto industry.
“Without additional government assistance and without additional companies, the UK automotive industry will struggle to survive the transition to electric vehicles,” said Peter Wells, director of the Center for Research in the Automotive Industry at Cardiff Business School.
By 2030, improvements in electric cars and related infrastructure could make it much easier to convince people to buy them. However, analysts said it is still important that the government not only set new product or industry standards, but also influence consumer choices.
The 2030 ban includes gas and diesel vans, a likely pillar of the post-pandemic economy. This is “a very clear sign” of government determination, said John Gummer, Lord Deben, chair of the Climate Change Committee, a watchdog who monitors progress on emissions reductions. “They wouldn’t have put it in if they were just a window dressing.”
Ever since the UK won its bid to host international climate change negotiations in Glasgow next year – an event some analysts are citing as the most significant since the 2012 Summer Olympics – the government has been under pressure to raise the bar for the arrival of the World high leader.
That pressure only grew with the election of Mr Biden, who is keen to raise climate change issues in his government but is less interested in Britain’s exit from the European Union.
Some members of Mr Johnson’s Conservative Party, particularly those linked to his recently deceased chief adviser Dominic Cummings, have argued that a focus on clean energy would lead people in struggling industrial areas to be in support of the Prime Minister passed over from the party would resolve election last year.
But Mr Johnson, who has sometimes voiced doubts about climate science in the past, is now trying to see his plans as a boon to jobs and businesses in these regions like the Midlands.
Offshore wind farms, which Mr Johnson placed high on his green list, are helping to create jobs in areas that were once heavily industrialized, as are plans involving oil giants BP and Equinor to pull that off local ones Industries in the US emitted carbon dioxide to capture these regions and pump it into a reservoir under the North Sea.
“Imagine Britain when a green industrial revolution helped make the country better,” Johnson wrote in the Financial Times Tuesday evening, suggesting the plans could create 250,000 green jobs. “You cook breakfast on hydrogen before getting into your electric car after charging it overnight with batteries from the Midlands.”
For the most part, the kind of culture war over climate science that helped hamper action in the United States didn’t take root in the UK.
A recent poll by Climate Outreach, a non-profit group, along with YouGov, a well-respected electoral agency, found that only 3 percent of respondents in the UK thought climate change was not real. Almost 60 percent of people wanted the political party they voted for to do more to slow down climate change.
“Politics must meet the public’s desire for action,” said Garman.
Aside from its problems with road traffic emissions, which analysts say are based on busy roads and sales of sport utility vehicles, the UK is also struggling to reduce emissions from heating its notoriously leaky homes.
To counter this, Mr Johnson’s new plan set a 2028 target for the installation of hundreds of thousands of heat pumps annually, a more efficient system than the typical gas boiler. The government also expanded a voucher program for people making their homes more energy efficient, and announced investments in trials to use hydrogen in heating and cooking.
Like Japan and Germany, the UK has increasingly relied on hydrogen as a means of reducing emissions. The cleanest form of hydrogen – called green hydrogen, which is usually produced from water using clean power sources like offshore wind – is still expensive to produce. However, proponents say that these costs will decrease with economies of scale and technical advances.
The UK nuclear industry, which accounted for 17 percent of electricity generation in 2019, was also encouraged by the government’s mention of supporting both large and small reactors.
As the coronavirus pandemic hit the UK economy, the Prime Minister’s plans only included new spending of £ 12 billion, or $ 16 billion, of which large chunks had already been pledged.
Nick Mabey, executive director of E3G, an environmental group, said he doubts the government is doing enough to attract the private investment necessary for its green plans to succeed. “That doesn’t quite go over the bar,” he said.