Britain Links Green with Growth

“Green and growth can go hand-in-hand.” These are the words of the UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who recently rolled out his ten-point plan for a greener Britain. Wind turbines, technological advancement and moving on from fossil fuels are the backbone of his rhetoric. How will this be achieved? Will it be enough to meet the island nation’s commitment to net zero emissions by 2050?

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Just last year Britain enshrined net zero emissions by 2050 as a legally binding target and since then many have questioned how this will be achieved. The new ten-point plan aims to provide the framework for this transition and adds Britain to the list of countries currently seeking to improve their climate ambition and link “green” with “growth”.

“Now is the time to plan for a green recovery with high-skilled jobs that give people the satisfaction of knowing they are helping to make the country cleaner, greener and more beautiful”, outlined Boris Johnson in his official communication of Britain’s ten-point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution.

The plan sets aside 12bn of government investment, with the hope that the funds and policy shifts help mobilise three times this figure in private sector investments that could generate and support up to 250,000 green jobs. As the country continues to struggle with the implications of COVID it is no coincidence that the ten-point plan is so closely linked to economic recovery and the creation of new jobs and opportunities.

Now is the time to plan for a green recovery with high-skilled jobs that give people the satisfaction of knowing they are helping to make the country cleaner, greener and more beautiful. Boris Johnson

Johnson’s communication of the plan goes to great pains to paint a rosy picture of British towns powered by hydrogen and British electric cars and batteries built on home soil. However, skeptics are not only pointing to a lack of a clear plan on how to deliver on these promises, but also that the plan itself is insufficient towards meeting the net-zero emissions by 2050 target set out by the UK government last year.

Will it be enough?

According to analysis by the Economist the plan itself is “probably not enough to get Britain to net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050 […] The Climate Change Committee, an independent body, told MPs in the summer that the country was off-track. Electricity, industry and farming have become much greener since the 1990s, but buildings and vehicles have not.”

The Financial Times states that “The government estimates the plan will save more than 180m tonnes of CO2 emissions during the 2023 to 2032 period, which is slightly more than half the UK’s annual emissions right now”, and therefore not sufficient towards meeting climate pledges; and according to Carbon Brief’s policy editor Simon Evans, although the new announcement is substantial, it won’t be enough to get the UK to net-zero by 2050. A major issue of contention revolves around the government funds that are being made available for the Green Revolution. Although the government statement declares that 12 billion GBP will be invested in the transition analysts indicated that this is including past investments and that new funds are actually a lot smaller.

The Guardian quotes a government spokesman as saying that “Of the £12bn, £3bn of it is brand-new investment.” The consequences of this lack of funds are explained by Sir David King, a former government chief scientist and chair of the Centre for Climate Repair at Cambridge University, who claims that: “[This] is nowhere near enough either to manage the commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 or to provide a safe future.”

However, the ten-point plan does also state that most of the funding necessary for green growth will come from the private sector and that government funding is only meant to kickstart those sectors that need an initial push in the right direction. Chris Stark, the chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change, pointed out on Twitter: “Private offshore wind investment alone would dwarf the £12bn … Majority will be private investment, with some public investment alongside.”

In fact, The Daily Mail posits that reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 will require 1 trillion GBP — a figure that was first claimed by former chancellor Philip Hammond when critiquing ideas of a Green Industrial revolution last year.

Chris Stark took the time to clarify the scale of investment needed and where it would come from: “No — it won’t cost £1trillion. Such a misleading figure, so it’s time to put it to bed. And there’s a lot more than £4bn of investment taking place as a result of this package. We’ll have more on this on December 9th. It’s going to be one of the major themes of our next report.”

This plan can be a global template for delivering net zero emissions in ways that creates jobs and preserve our lifestyles.

Boris Johnson

Keith Anderson, the chief executive of Scottish Power, echoed these views by explaining to the Guardian that: “I don’t think the government needs to spend huge amounts of taxpayer money,” he told the Guardian. “If we have a proper policy framework and investment frameworks then money will flow into the system quite readily. Take the offshore wind sector, for example: the government stated an ambition, set up its [contracts for difference] mechanism, and this has created a self-perpetuating industrial success story. We are starting to see the same thing in electric vehicles where costs are beginning to come down.”

What does the plan include?

One of the main new aspects of the plan set out by the government is the 2030 ban on new petrol/diesel car sales. The previous target for this ban was 2040 and therefore marks a significant increase in ambition that brings the UK to the forefront of electric car promotion.

However, to date only 6.6% of new cars sold in Britain are battery-powered and another 5.5% are plug-in hybrids — a technology that will be allowed until 2035.

Professor Peter Wells, director of the Centre for Automotive Industry Research at Cardiff University, New York Times that “without additional government help, without additional companies coming in, the UK automotive industry is going to struggle to survive the transition to electric vehicles”. The paper noted that “Britain’s departure from the European Union has already caused investment in the auto industry to plummet”. At the same time the Governmt’s plan intends to promote electric car production in the UK by setting aside “nearly £500m to be spent in the next four years” for the creation of the UK’s first battery gigafactory.

The other major news emerging from the plan regards the energy sector and in particular nuclear and hydrogen. For nuclear energy, the plan sets aside a fund of £525m “to help develop large and smaller-scale nuclear plants, and research and develop new advanced modular reactors”, without outlining a specific roadmap. Similarly, for hydrogen there will be “up to £500m” of which £240m will be allocated towards enhancing capacity of hydrogen to 5GW by 2030. Hydrogen power will be used for homes and cooking “starting with a hydrogen neighbourhood in 2023, moving to a hydrogen village by 2025, with an aim for a hydrogen town — equivalent to tens of thousands of homes — before the end of the decade”.

With hydrogen in particular it is clear that the government is attempting to prop up gamechanger technologies that are still very much in the development phase and will require support and trials to meet their potential.

This also includes plans to further develop Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) which is described as a necessary technology to meet climate objectives. With regards to CCS the UK is looking to become “a world-leader in technology to capture and store harmful emissions away from the atmosphere”, with a target of removing 10 megatonnes of CO2 (MtCO2) by 2030.

In light of Britain hosting the next COP in Glasgow in 2021, the ten-point plan marks a significant shift in government policy and shows Johnson’s intention to place himself as a standard-bearer of environmental policy. This also comes at a pivotal moment as the government is due release an energy white paper which will give more substance to the 10-point plan and bring forth future legislation. Although there seems to be a lack of a clear roadmap this is just a first step in the right direction.

Euro-Mediterranean Center on #ClimateChange: integrated, multi-disciplinary and frontier research on climate science and policy.

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