“The food here is terrible. Yes, and such small portions.” (1)
“Hmm. This is burnt AND undercooked.” (2)
This is Boris Johnson’s ten point plan for the Environment with comments (in italics). This “plan” is an almost random curates egg of proposals with no overall strategy – other than a series of hopeful nudges at the private sector in the hope that it will take up the slack and fill the gaps between the limited and truncated ambition and the almost laughably small commitment the government is putting in to realise it; bringing to mind the two jokes above.
“Imagine Britain when a Green Industrial Revolution has helped to level up the country.”
You might have been able to achieve this by voting Labour last December, but for now you just have to imagine.
“You cook breakfast using hydrogen power before getting in your electric car, having charged it overnight from batteries made in the Midlands. Around you the air is cleaner; trucks, trains, ships and planes run on hydrogen or synthetic fuel.”
The poverty of imagination in this vision is almost numbing. Imagine instead that you don’t need to go to work by car every day because there is effective broadband that allows you to work for home more often; nor have to pay through the nose to use a car to travel, because everything you need is within a fifteen minute walk or cycle ride; with longer journeys covered by clean, efficient electric buses, trams and trains or community car clubs. Imagine fewer vehicles and less space required for them, with car parks turned into parks with bike hangars; with a car scrappage scheme paying for travel passes and electric cycles. Imagine your home properly insulated and fueled with renewable energy – and imagine no homeless because we have built an additional 500,000 council houses to passivhaus standards. All of this is doable.
“British towns and regions — Teesside, Port Talbot, Merseyside and Mansfield — are now synonymous with green technology and jobs. This is where Britain’s ability to make hydrogen and capture carbon pioneered the decarbonisation of transport, industry and power.”
Towns and regions and cities all over the world will need to be synonymous with green jobs. This has to become a global norm. Hopefully Britain will do its bit in this global process without striking vainglorious poses about world beating systems – or Apps. CCS will be important for heavy industries but research into it has been going on for a long time without viable results – and can be a fig leaf for carrying on as normal while we wait for a technological solution that might not come. It is not a basket to put most of our eggs in.
“My 10-point plan to get there will mobilise £12bn of government investment, and potentially three times as much from the private sector, to create and support up to 250,000 green jobs.”
“Potentially” – “up to.” So, maybe not even that much. £12 billion of government investment is – frankly – peanuts – and compares pitifully with the £27 billion earmarked for expanding the road network; not to mention the sums being pledged by comparable countries in Europe.
The Green Jobs Task Force was announced a couple of days ago with the supposed aim of generating 2 million green jobs by 2030; yet here we have a plan aiming to generate “up to” just 250,000 (an eighth of that figure). Are they making this up as they go along?
“There will be electric vehicle technicians in the Midlands, construction and installation workers in the North East and Wales, specialists in advanced fuels in the North West, agroforestry practitioners in Scotland, and grid system installers everywhere. And we will help people train for these new green jobs through our Lifetime Skills Guarantee”.
And there will be an airport in the Thames Estuary and a bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland and, and..Moonshot, what moonshot? Typical broad brush fabulism from Johnson. What are the specifics? How many? Where? Doing what? What funding is committed to apprenticeships in the desperately needed areas and who will manage the transition? What is the plan for overhauling the curriculum?
“This 10-point plan will turn the UK into the world’s number one centre for green technology and finance, creating the foundations for decades of economic growth.”
In your dreams Boris! If you look at the patents filed for renewable energy technology, the UK doesn’t even get its own column, being bundled in with the “rest of the world”. China is right out there in front with 7544, with the USA trailing on 2059, Germany on 571 and Japan on 89. So the UK is well below that. (3)
This ten point plan has neither the ambition or the imagination to stimulate a more positive and creative contribution to the global effort we need from this country – preferring instead post imperial fantasies of being back up where we belong: a slightly greener gated community.
The phrase “decades of economic growth” implies that this can be growth of the sort we have now – with an ever intensifying pattern of work taking over our entire lives and making depression an epidemic, compensated by accelerated consumption to fill the holes in our souls; overlaid on a widening gap between people in poverty and insecurity and those who need the FT “How to spend it” supplement to work out how to dispose of more money than they know what to do with; rather than the growth in security, health, care, wellbeing, community and shared cultural creativity we need.
This Plan could well be retitled, “everything must change so that things can stay as they are.” (4)
“One — we will make the UK the Saudi Arabia of wind with enough offshore capacity to power every home by 2030.”
This is the least we can do. All this is already planned for and on the stocks. There is no mention of onshore wind which the Conservatives have gone out of their way to discourage; hitherto favouring fracking and now fantasising about mini nuclear power stations instead. Perhaps people should be given the choice as to which they prefer in their local area. The comparison with Saudi Arabia is another absurd vainglorious pose. Saudi Arabia exports vast quantities of oil. This programme does not even supply all domestic energy demands.
“Two — we will turn water into energy with up to £500m of investment in hydrogen.”
The prominence given Hydrogen here implies that it will be the main plank in replacing natural gas for heating and cooking, rather than looking to going wholesale with electricity generated by renewable sources – either on the grid or on local grids or using heat pumps. There is no rationale here – or exploration of alternative costings – for why they have gone with this. However, the investment allocated is so tiny that it won’t make much of a dent in any transition they have in mind; and there is that wonderful get out of jail free phrase “up to” again; so it might not even be that much.
“Three — we will take forward our plans for new nuclear power, from large scale to small and advanced modular reactor.”
There are no specifics here nor any rationale. The small modular reactors are unproven technology. So is the technology currently being built at Hinckley point for that matter, which is already over budget and off target. Investment in nuclear takes a very long time. It is also absurdly expensive compared with wind or solar power – and becomes more so as time goes on. the government is committing to a herd of white elephants. (5) The excess costs for taking on this less than optimal option will be paid for by everyone’s energy bills.
“Four — we’ll invest more than £2.8bn in electric vehicles, lacing the land with charging points and creating long-lasting batteries in UK gigafactories. This will allow us to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans in 2030. However, we will allow the sale of hybrid cars and vans that can drive a significant distance with no carbon coming out of the tailpipe until 2035.
Five — we will have cleaner public transport, including thousands of green buses and hundreds of miles of new cycle lanes.”
After decarbonising the energy grid, which the proposals above fumble, this is the most important sector to get a grip on. Emissions have been rising, largely because car companies have been pushing SUVs and there are more cars on the roads overall. SUVs also have a negative impact on road deaths for anyone unfortunate enough to collide with them.
The ban on new fossil fuel car sales from 2030 is welcome, though the loophole for hybrids implies that they don’t pollute. They do. And they should be included. SUVs should also be phased out as rapidly as possible and the companies that build them fined substantial sums every year they continue to do it.
A green transition in transport does not simply imply a 1:1 swap between fossil fuel cars and electric cars, but a significant shift away from cars altogether. The investment in gigafactories will be more significant in the transition to electric public transport. Unlike most cars, buses are in almost continuous use. This can be done much quicker than the snails pace currently projected even by TFL – the best run local transport network in the country. In Shenzen in southern China, they converted every single one of their 16,000 buses from diesel to electric in one year (2016). Where there’s a will…Making the most rapid transition also requires a coherent national transport plan – both to tie city neighbourhood together and provide a web of connections for rural areas too. That requires investment in public transport that is genuinely public.
The level of investment in bike lanes is absurdly small. “Hundreds of miles”, when you consider that there are 247,100 miles of roads in the UK.
“Six — we will strive to repeat the feat of Jack Alcock and Teddie Brown, who achieved the first nonstop transatlantic flight a century ago, with a zero emission plane. And we will do the same with ships.”
Air travel is significantly down as a result of COVID. Heathrow expansion is probably dead. Much to the relief of anyone who lives anywhere near the airports, who have reported a wonderful release from a constant barrage of noise. There is no mention here of the need for transition for workers being made redundant by this industry. A Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines competition to build a zero carbon emissions aircraft capable of getting across the Atlantic is another of Johnson’s imperial nostalgic wheezes and as fanciful as the Thames Garden Bridge. Serious work on reducing the carbon emissions of shipping is crucial however, and tacked on as an afterthought it seems. Nothing is spelled out here about how this is to be done, nor who will do it, nor is any investment earmarked. It should be.
“Seven — we will invest £1bn next year to make homes, schools and hospitals greener, and energy bills lower.”
Must try harder. The schools sector alone needs £28 billion by 2030 to get to zero carbon. Retrofitting housing would be best done through a national plan using local authorities to grow skilled direct labour workforces able to utilise economies of scale with a rolling programme starting with the worst off estates and areas. The current system of grants for homeowners via accredited local installers – of which there are too few – leads to an incredibly inefficient and time consuming system in which improvements are made in penny packets by those most able to afford it – whose energy bills are then subsidised by those that can’t. A perfect example of an unjust transition. The Conservative obsession with treating all situations as an opportunity primarily to benefit small business plays well with their base – mostly small business people – but is the retrofitting equivalent of growing wheat in flower pots.
“Eight — we will establish a new world-leading industry in carbon capture and storage, backed by £1bn of government investment for clusters across the North, Wales and Scotland.”
The small total of investment implies that this will be about as world leading as the COVID App and not especially immediate in its impact; and therefore more likely to be playing the role of a fig leaf or gesture to allow business as usual to carry on.
“Nine — we will harness nature’s ability to absorb carbon by planting 30,000 hectares of trees a year by 2025 and rewilding 30,000 football pitches’ worth of countryside.”
If you work out that the mean average size of a football pitch is 0.72 hectares, this means that the proportion of land in the UK scheduled to be rewilded in this plan looks like this.
“And ten — our £1bn energy innovation fund will help commercialise new low-carbon technologies, like the world’s first liquid air battery being developed in Trafford, and we will make the City of London the global centre for green finance through our sovereign bond, carbon offset markets and disclosure requirements.”
An energy innovation fund is a good thing, but the aim should be to produce the most usable technologies for the greatest number of people – not follow the commercial imperative that means it will follow the demands of the people who can afford it: thereby skewing research in the wrong direction. “He soon became a specialist, specialising in diseases of the rich.” (6)
“This plan can be a global template for delivering net zero emissions in ways that create jobs and preserve our lifestyles.”
A global template cannot be one in which every country claims it will be world beating and a world leader anymore than everyone can be above average. It does appear to be a plan to “preserve our lifestyles” as they are now – with no reflection that if they were duplicated across the world we would need three planets to sustain them – with strenuous efforts put in to avoid anything that might actually make them better but don’t follow a commercial imperative.
“On Wednesday I will meet UK businesses to discuss their contribution. We plan to provide clear timetables for the clean energy we will procure, details of the regulations we will change, and the carbon prices that we will put on emissions.”
Let us see how much of a contribution comes from business and, conversely, how much contribution they are given. Hopefully the process of managing this will not be outsourced to SERCO or companies run by friends of the cabinet.
“I will establish a “task force net zero” committed to reaching net zero by 2050, and through next year’s COP26 summit we will urge countries and companies around the world to join us in delivering net zero globally.
Green and growth can go hand-in-hand. So let us meet the most enduring threat to our planet with one of the most innovative and ambitious programmes of job-creation we have known.”
It would be nice if we were going to. But this plan is a feeble shadow of what is needed. The government currently has polices that will get to a fifth of the 2050 target. This plan will barely improve on that because only a third of it is new money. An investment of £68 billion would create 1.2 million green jobs in the next two years. The TUC and others have presented the government with detailed plans that it has not picked up on. The consequence will be mass unemployment AND a failure to meet the green transition targets we so desperately need.
- From Annie Hall.
- From Desperate Housewives.
- Lampedusa The Leopard
- Tom Lehrer