Though U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson had hoped that the ten-point climate plan he announced today would be a rare bit of good press at a difficult time for him politically, the initial reactions have not been positive.
“Five years on from the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement, and the U.K. government’s ten-point plan amounts to little more than a rhetorical flourish for which future generations will pay dearly,” said Kevin Anderson, a professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester. “In the absence of a coordinated, quantitively robust and timely strategy, its piecemeal proposals are very much part of the problem and not a thought through solution.”
The plan sets goals to produce enough offshore wind to power every home, generate 5GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030, advance nuclear as a clean energy source, ban new cars powered only be petrol or diesel from being sold in the U.K. after 2030, increase research into zero-emission planes and ships, installing 600,000 heat pumps every year by 2028, removing 10MT of CO2 using carbon capture and storage (CCS) by 2030, and planting 30,000 hectares of trees annually.
Johnson is under pressure to come up with an ambitious climate policy to showcase at next year’s COP26 UN climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland. The U.K. has already set a goal of reducing emissions to net zero by 2050, mirroring the European Union’s plan. But so far Johnson hasn’t produced a detailed plan for how the U.K. will reach this target. His government is under international pressure to adopt this plan in time for next November’s summit, which was supposed to take place this month but was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
As a mini-substitute for the summit that was supposed to take place this year, Johnson is hosting a preliminary meeting of world leaders next month on the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement, called the Climate Ambition Summit 2020. Leaders at the meeting will urge all countries in the treaty (that is, all countries in the world except the United States, which left last week) to quickly submit their pledges for emissions reductions over the next decade by the end of this year, as required by the Paris pact.
But Johnson’s plan unveiled today, which includes a ban on the sale of new petrol or diesel vehicles after 2030, was criticised for a lack of detail on how the U.K. will reach these goals. Ed Miliband, the shadow business secretary from the opposition Labour Party, said the funding “does not remotely meet the scale of what is needed” to tackle the climate emergency.
Johnson said his plan contains £12 billion ($15.9 billion) in new funding. But analysis by U.K. major media outlets determined that at least two-thirds of this is recycled from previous announcements. The amount compares to a €40 billion climate plan in Germany and a €30 billion plan in France.
“To put the U.K. economy on a credible pathway for net zero emissions, the prime minister must embed the net zero target across all government departments and address the lack of long-term policy commitments that is still holding back progress in some parts of the economy,” said Nick Molho, Executive Director at the Aldersgate Group, an alliance of leaders from business, politics and civil society. “For example, the ten point plan doesn’t address the lack of regulatory drivers in buildings that is currently hampering private investment in energy efficiency and low carbon heat, and it does not recognise the urgent need to set up a well-capitalized national investment bank to grow investment in complex low carbon technologies.”
Currently the U.K. government is not yet delivering the scale of investment needed to meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement. It is only investing 12% of the funds required to tackle climate change, according to the think tank IPPR. So far only £4 billion of the £33 billion needed during this parliament has been pledged.
Concerns have been raised over whether the U.K. will lower its climate ambition and environmental standards once it leaves the European Union’s regulatory framework at the end of this year. So far it is unclear whether and how the UK will replace its participation on the EU Emissions Trading System, the bloc’s flagship tool to fight climate change.
Johnson has become an unlikely climate change warrior. He has in the past said that fears about climate change are “without foundation”. But earlier this year, a few days after the U.K. technically left the EU (but remained beholden to EU law until this end of this year), Johnson stood beside the documentary filmmaker David Attenborough to issue a mea culpa.
“The evidence is overwhelming, and this phenomenon of global warming is taking its toll on the most vulnerable populations around the planet,” he said at the press conference in London.