Johnson unveils UK climate change strategy ahead of Cop26 summit

Multifaceted plans ‘torpedoed’ by treasury and inadequate for crisis, Labour says

British prime minister Boris Johnson inspects a product at the Science Museum, London: “The UK’s path to ending our contribution to climate change will be paved with well-paid jobs, billions in investment and thriving green industries.” Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

Boris Johnson has promised to boost the expansion of electric cars, subsidise householders to switch from gas boilers to low carbon alternatives and develop new green technologies in order to reach net zero by 2050.

Less than a fortnight before he hosts the Cop26 climate change summit in Glasgow, the prime minister published a 368-page strategy paper outlining how Britain will reach that goal. He said the plan would put Britain ahead of other countries in green technology and would unlock £90 billion (€107 billion)of private investment and secure 440,000 jobs by 2030.

“The UK’s path to ending our contribution to climate change will be paved with well-paid jobs, billions in investment and thriving green industries – powering our green industrial revolution across the country. By moving first and taking bold action, we will build a defining competitive edge in electric vehicles, offshore wind, carbon capture technology and more, whilst supporting people and businesses along the way,” he said.

The strategy promises £120 million to develop new nuclear technologies including small reactors that can be built and assembled more quickly than large-scale nuclear plants. Two sites have been earmarked for carbon capture and storage and the government will invest in hydrogen projects.


Gas boilers

Car manufacturers will be obliged to sell more electric vehicles and the network of charging stations will be expanded. Householders will be offered a £5,000 grant to replace gas boilers with heat pumps but the £450 million allocated for the programme will fund only 90,000 grants.

The treasury said the measures would require more public spending but the biggest impact on public finances would come from the loss of tax revenues on fossil fuel-related activity. It warned that the gap would have to be funded by new taxes.

“If there is to be additional public spending, the government may need to consider changes to existing taxes and new sources of revenue throughout the transition in order to deliver net zero sustainably, and consistently with the government’s fiscal principles,” it said.

‘Blunt incentives’

“Seeking to pass the costs onto future taxpayers through borrowing would deviate from the ‘polluter pays’ principle, would not be consistent with intergenerational fairness nor fiscal sustainability, and could blunt incentives. This could also push up the economic cost of the transition.”

Labour's shadow business secretary, Ed Miliband, said the plan had been "torpedoed" by the treasury, leaving it inadequate for the green transition demanded by the climate crisis.

“Homeowners are left to face the costs of insulation on their own, industries like steel and hydrogen are left hobbled in the global race without the support they need, and the government cannot even confirm they will meet their climate target for 2035,” he said.

"While Labour has a bold climate investment pledge of £28 billion extra each and every year to 2030, the government offers a tiny fraction of that. This does not meet our ambitions for British industries to thrive, prosper and lead the world or show the government leadership required to tackle climate breakdown and bring the benefits of a green transition to Britain."

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times