Source: Ørsted
Opinion

The ‘green industrial revolution’: We’re on fire and Boris will bring a hose (by 2030-ish)

Why isn’t road building called a revolution? Or perhaps we should call that most disastrous project, HS2, the rail revolution.

The government has set aside £27bn for road building projects over the course of its (potential) five years in office, whilst the ever-ballooning cost of HS2 is set to top £100bn. The huge sums of money going into infrastructure which destroys the truly-natural environment we have left in this country would surely deserve the title of a revolution.

Yet, what the government has announced this week, the so-called ‘green industrial revolution’, includes a mere £12bn in proposed funding, only £4bn of which is actually ‘new money’ in reality.

Let’s go through the ten-point plan, before I tell you why it isn’t anywhere near enough:

1.   To produce enough offshore wind to power every home by 2030.

2.   Invest in hydrogen technology to generate capacity for some transport and industry, as well as a town entirely powered by hydrogen by the end of the decade.

3.   Advance nuclear energy with several large and small-scale reactors.

4.   Accelerate the transition to electric vehicles and transform national infrastructure to support this – the government also confirmed it is bringing forward a ban on cars run solely from petrol and diesel from 2035 to 2030.

5.   Invest in zero-emissions public transport and encourage walking and cycling.

6.   Support difficult-to-decarbonise industries such as air-travel and the maritime trade.

7.   Insulate and improve the efficiency of homes and public buildings, with an aim to be installing 600,000 heat pumps per year by 2028.

8.   Become a world leader (that phrase again) in carbon capture technology.

9.   Protect and restore the natural environment, planting 30,000 hectares of trees every year.

10.   Develop cutting-edge technologies and make the City of London the global centre for centre finance.

One added word of caution is that this is essentially a press release; a more detailed and concrete white paper has not yet been finalised or published.

Let’s start with the good points first. A 2030 ban on the sale of diesel and petrol cars is in line with the UK’s Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) advice, which said that this should be the latest date in which the sale of these cars should be banned. The date represents a full ten years earlier than initial proposals, which had already been brought forward to 2035.

The 40GW of offshore wind to be produced by 2030 was a government pledge in its 2019 manifesto, and would be enough to supply half of the UK’s current demand; this is certainly a big step in the right direction – it makes no sense not to maximise the gift of being a windy island!

Another positive is that this sort of plan would have been unimaginable from a Conservative government only a few years ago; the Prime Minister (as we know from past failed experiences) is drawn to the big projects and plans for infrastructure, and the climate and ecological emergency requires a greater overhaul of infrastructure than anything ever seen before.

That the government is actively setting out big policy statements, with serious targets, some of which adhere to the CCC’s modelling and advice, is encouraging at the least.

However, one cannot escape the fact that this plan falls woefully short of the ambition needed in this crucial decade to meet the scale of the climate and ecological challenge. In other words, it’s as if your tutor has asked for a 2,500-word essay and you turn up to your tutorial having written only an introduction, but seriously maintain that you’ve done enough work.

Sian Berry, co-leader of the Green Party, said last night: “This is beyond inadequate for the Green recovery and transformation we must invest in. The alarm is ringing, we need the fire brigade but we’ve got Boris Johnson with a garden hose.”

Professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester, Kevin Anderson said of the plan:

“In reality the plan is simply a future technology wish list, with a dominant focus on energy supply. It fails to recognise the carbon budget imperative, that required deep reductions year on year from now.”

He added: “There is no reference to tailoring policies towards the relatively few high emitters responsible for the lion’s share of carbon emissions. Nor does it include a rapid phase out plan for the UK’s own fossil fuel industry, or even a pledge for the government to stop investing UK tax payers’ money in fossil fuel projects abroad.”

Certainly, the government focus on technologies such as hydrogen, carbon capture and the difficult-to-decarbonise industries is welcome, yet a) the levels of funding to support research and development of these technologies is inadequate, and b) it is obscuring the fact that there is so much more we can be doing right now to bring down our carbon emissions and to utilise natural climate solutions which tackle both the climate and ecological emergency.

Most worrying about these ten points is that ‘nature’ features in only one of them, way down in point nine. “Protecting and restoring our natural environment” are hollow words from a government which has ploughed ahead with projects such as HS2, which continues to allow the burning of peatlands and grouse moors, and whose national parks are some of the most nature-depleted in Europe.

Rewilding our land and seas should be front and centre of the government’s plans, with the potential to create and support hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Yet, Boris Johnson, unsurprisingly for a Conservative Prime Minister, has stuck firmly to the belief that it is private business, industry, and technology that will ‘get us out of this mess’.

The plans give no mention to weaning our economy off its obsession with growth, no mention of the need to account for our emissions from consumption and international aviation and shipping, no mention of land use, farming or international aid, and no mention of the fact we are on course to miss our carbon budgets in the next decade.

The government’s plans hit just the tip of the iceberg whilst the rest of it continues to melt.

Max Spokes

Max (he/him) is Environment News Editor at The Oxford Blue for Michaelmas 2020. He is in his second year studying History and Politics at Balliol.