Boris Johnson’s Green Plan Shows Just How Far U.K. Is From Net-Zero

Boris Johnson on Wednesday unveiled a sweeping package of measures designed to zero out Britain’s greenhouse gas pollution by mid-century. The announcement shows just how long that road will be.

The prime minister’s 10-point plan covers everything from diesel cars to hydrogen and offshore wind power. It’s one of the biggest package of climate measures set out by a British prime minister—and even won measured praise from Greenpeace as the U.K. seeks to position itself as a global leader on climate change before it co-hosts global talks next year.

But experts said the government will have to more than double the 12 billion pounds ($16 billion) it proposed, and come up with a more detailed road map, if it wants to achieve carbon-neutrality by 2050. Analysis by the independent U.K. Climate Change Committee, which monitors the nation’s progress toward its long-term climate goals, showed Britain isn’t even on track to reach its previous goal of cutting emissions by 80% in the next 30 years.

Boris Johnson’s Green Plan Shows Just How Far U.K. Is From Net-Zero

“On the basis of details released so far, these measures will not be enough to reach net-zero emissions by 2050,” said Victoria Cuming, an analyst for Bloomberg NEF. 

In the coming weeks, the CCC will set out its advice on the volume of greenhouse gases the U.K. can emit from 2033 to 2037 if it wants to get on the pathway to net zero. The government’s response to that advice will be key, said John Gummer, the committee’s chairman. “This is a very big step indeed. But it’s not yet enough,” he said of today’s announcement.

The U.K.’s plans will also be helped by growing global momentum to tackle climate change. President-elect Joe Biden has promised to set a target for the U.S. to be net zero by 2050 which, combined with recent pledges from China and Japan, will mean eight of the 10 biggest economies have carbon-neutral commitments.

Contentious policies

Many of the U.K.’s new targets are in line with what businesses and the CCC have been asking for to decarbonize transport and industry—two of the toughest areas to clean up. That includes a plan for 5 gigawatts of hydrogen capacity by 2030 and a commitment to developing small modular nuclear reactors.

Others have been more contentious, including a decision to ban the sale of new diesel and gasoline cars from 2030. The government reached a compromise with the auto industry by delaying the ban on hybrids until 2035. It doesn’t detail how it would ramp up electric car usage over the next decade. Just 8.5% of cars sold in the three months to September in the U.K. were electric.

“While the government has taken a big step for our climate by ruling out new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2030, behind the headline is a gaping hole in the funding needed to put us on track to net zero," Greenpeace U.K.'s head of politics, Rebecca Newsom, said in a statement. 

Johnson’s office also clashed with the Treasury over the plans, according to the Observer newspaper. The proposal was delayed at least twice, and negotiations on its contents were still ongoing just days before it was unveiled. The government also delayed an energy policy paper, hasn’t made a decision on the future of carbon pricing after Brexit, and doesn’t have a robust plan for de-carbonizing heat in people’s homes.

“Achieving the government’s net-zero target demands that we move to de-carbonizing all buildings by 2050,” said Darren Jones, chair of parliament’s business and energy committee. “Heat pumps are only part of the solution.”

New Spending

Some climate watchers also criticized the lack of new money behind the plans.

A U.K. government spokeswoman said there would be at least 3 billion pounds of new funds, on top of about 9 billion pounds of existing commitments made this year.  The government expects businesses to contribute as much as three times what it's spending, or 36 billion pounds, Business Minister Nadhim Zahawi told Bloomberg Television.

The U.K.'s green stimulus support so far has been dwarfed by those of its neighbors. France's package was $40 billion together with $13 billion of support with green conditions, according to BloombergNEF, while Germany's was $33 billion. For example, Johnson’s pledge to spend as much as 500 million pounds on hydrogen is just a fraction of the 9 billion euros ($11 billion) envisaged by Germany’s Recovery Fund to build 15 gigawatts of clean hydrogen capacity.

“This is not an oven-ready meal. The government plan recycles previous funding and spreads a thin veneer of ice cream across reheated mashed potato of already pledged money,” said Stuart Haszeldine, a professor of carbon capture and storage at the University of Edinburgh.

He said the government’s pledge to capture and store 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year by 2030 “is a very welcome new milestone,” but the U.K. needs to treble that quantity of carbon stored in order to meet the 2050 goal.

Green Jobs

Johnson’s self-styled plan for a green industrial revolution comes at a time when the U.K. economy has been wounded by the pandemic, and faces added uncertainty over the U.K.’s future outside the European Union from Jan. 1.

On Wednesday, Johnson said the proposal would create 250,000 new jobs, many of them in parts of the former industrial heartlands in the north of England that voted for his Conservative Party for the first time in the December 2019 election.

But his initiatives are too fragmented, said Nick Molho, executive director of the Aldersgate Group, which lobbies government for stronger action on climate change on behalf of businesses including Siemens AG, Sky Ltd. and Tesco Plc.

“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,” he said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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