Analysis: Boris Johnson’s Green Industrial Revolution Promises Much, but Questions Remain

In November, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined his ‘Green Industrial Revolution’ masterplan. Aleksandra Wrona from Insanity News analyses the Conservatives plan.

With the popularisation of the Extinction Rebellion movement, Greta Thunberg’s speeches and David Attenborough’s documentaries, the UK and the world alike has seen a surge in public opinion about what governments should do to minimise the effects of the global warming crisis. On November 18th, Boris Johnson revealed an ambitious ten-point plan to make Britain ‘greener’. Although the initial plan was met with praise from both sides of the political spectrum in the UK, environmental activists urge that this is not a sufficient plan for the UK – and that the plan simply needs to be stricter and more immediate – “It completely fails to rise to the gravity of this moment”. Will the UK be able to follow the plan in a post-Coronavirus world? Here is an analysis of the policies that will be put in place – and why they might not work.

The first point – Producing enough offshore wind to power every home. According to government research, by 2030, the UK will raise wind-powered energy production to 40GW, enough for every home, simultaneously supporting up to 60,000 jobs. Reducing the country’s reliance on non-renewable energy will be an exceptional way to reduce the current 46.9 million metric tonnes in imports of crude oil and natural gas per annum. This pledge, however, does not answer the question on how markets will cope with this surge in power supply or the impact it might have on jobs in the none-renewable energy sector.

Aiming to develop the first town heated entirely by hydrogen by the end of the decade and working with industries to generate 5GW of low carbon hydrogen capacity by 2030. Again, this is an ambitious way to reduce the UK’s reliance on foreign energy supplies and the value of imports that this contributes to. There are, however, still two major questions hanging over such an idea. One being what are the environmental consequences of producing hydrogen energy? Currently, most of the world’s hydrogen production is done by a CO2 intensive process called Steam Methane Reforming (SMR). At the current rate of production, SMR is responsible for 3% of global industrial sector CO2 emissions. The second question is over the efficiency of hydrogen as a fuel source. Sources show, for example, that hydrogen power alone will not provide sufficient power for locomotives to haul heavy freight trains. It is however effective when used in hydrogen fuel cells which, rather than using the hydrogen directly as a source of energy (for example, by burning it), convert the hydrogen in to electricity to power some form of electric motor. The bottom line is that hydrogen power is complicated and, for now, imperfect. It needs to be used in the right way to be appropriately efficient, and more development is needed to be able to harness it cleanly in the first place.

Perhaps the easiest to fulfill out of the given plan is the promise to make homes, schools, and hospitals warmer and more energy efficient, through insulation and installation of heat pumps. This promises to create a further 50,000 jobs in the market. This is likely to occur in a reasonable time – it utilises resources and skills already present in the energy sector while creating demand for labour through the rise in supply of this service. Will this though, be enough of a change to move Britain towards a greener future? At this point, reducing CO2 production is not enough; we have to actively reduce the amount of this in our atmosphere. But the PM does seem to be aware of this, saying that he aims for the country to become a world leader in technology to capture and store harmful emissions. Details, however, are yet to be revealed.

Advancing nuclear as a clean energy source and developing the next generation of advanced reactors, which could support 10,000 jobs. A very interesting idea, certainly. But how well its executed will determine how successful this is in the long run. Due to high initial investment costs that fund the innovation and research, the cost of this type of production can have a huge impact on the unit cost of energy for the foreseeable future; they would roughly be double the current rate for about 30 years. Were this to play out like so, it could have a massive effect on the rate of inflation in the UK – which in turn has a range of knock-on effects in the long run.

Transforming the national infrastructure to support electric vehicles is method popular with many governments at the moment as they try to reduce the national carbon footprint. Although electric cars remain significantly more expensive than petrol- or diesel-powered cars, the government is attempting to combat this through banning the sale of non-electric cars in 2030. The hope is that this will increase the demand for electric vehicles and lower their prices as a result. This is a major step in making electric and hybrid vehicles more available, as fuel duty has been remained frozen since 2011, meaning that petrol and diesel cars have not become any less attractive to consumers – financially at least.

The next few points; making cycling and walking more attractive ways to travel; supporting difficult-to-decarbonise industries to become greener; and developing technologies to make London the global centre of green finance are all vague promises to some degree. There are questions over whether walking and cycling will become any more attractive for anyone that it hasn’t to already – after all, various governments and local authorities have been pursuing the same line for years now. The other points feel empty and we will have to wait for more detail before we have a clear picture of how the government wants to achieve what it says it does.

The final point to mention, protecting and restoring the natural environment, planting 30,000 hectares of trees every year, stood out to me. Although there are doubts that the government is going to find enough space to fulfil this, and about whether the photosynthesis undertaken by these trees does enough to make up for CO2  that is produced, it sounds at least like it will be a carbon neutral process that will hopefully benefit National Trust Land in the local area!

Despite the continuous efforts of the current government to appeal to environmental groups, it is certainly not difficult to understand why those groups remain sceptical. The extent to which the PM’s promises will be effective at reducing the country’s carbon footprint will depend on both implementation and innovation within the renewable energy sector. The debate on whether the current budget – already shredded by the drastic fall in economic growth since the second quarter of this year – will facilitate that innovation is ongoing.

Image Credit: Number 10 Flickr