Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s long-awaited climate plan includes hastening the end of petrol and diesel cars, new nuclear, hydrogen, and carbon capture. But as our Environment Analyst Roger Harrabin reports, other policies are leaving emissions untouched, or even driving them up.
The prime minister’s ambitious 10-point plan has been broadly welcomed by businesses and environmentalists.
But while Mr Johnson creates jobs and cuts carbon dioxide with one hand, he’s either increasing emissions – or leaving them uncut – in at least 10 other areas.
These are road-building, SUVs, high-speed rail, aviation, overseas finance, oil and gas, coal mining, farming, meat-eating and peat.
The £27bn roads programme will actually increase emissions. Increased road capacity not only encourages driving but also leads to car-dependent developments such as retail and business parks. It will be decades before electric vehicles rule the tarmac.
The Transport Secretary Grant Shapps says people should be driving less, and even the AA’s president Edmund King concedes: “Arguably in future, we should invest more in broadband [so people can] work from home.”
There’s secrecy and confusion over the calculations for CO2 emissions from the roads programme, and the government is facing court action by greens complaining that road-building doesn’t fit with a zero emissions economy.
Building highways doesn’t create many jobs either because most work is mechanised.
Large sports utility vehicles (SUVs) emit a quarter more CO2 than medium-sized cars, yet the PM’s doing nothing to deter people from buying them.
The motoring industry says electric SUVs will eventually be the answer. But some academics argue that the most polluting SUVs should be removed from the roads immediately.
They say electric SUVs won’t solve all problems, because they gobble far more energy and resources than smaller cars.
There’s controversy over emissions from HS2 – the planned high-speed railway linking cities in the north and the Midlands with London. A previous report said it wouldn’t reduce CO2 overall for more than 100 years, largely because of the emissions created during tunnelling and construction.
HS2 says that forecast is out of date – and points to measures it has taken to reduce construction emissions by using less steel to do the same job.
HS2’s environment director Peter Miller said: “HS2 is playing a crucial role in supporting the green economic recovery and ensuring the UK is on track to achieve net-zero by 2050.”
Greens don’t trust the revised CO2 figures, and say the £100bn cost of HS2 could have been spent better on more effective climate policies.
Aviation poses another transport CO2 challenge. The PM hopes to develop large commercial planes that can fly long-haul passengers planes with zero emissions (Jet Zero, he calls it), but these are decades away.
Right now, some maintain, the government should dampen demand for flying when the economy picks up.
The Citizens’ Assembly – set up to gauge popular opinion on climate change – recommended a frequent fliers’ tax.
Finance is another area requiring attention, with the UK accused of carbon hypocrisy over its £1bn finance guarantee for a gas project in Mozambique.
It’s part of a broader package for fossil fuel ventures in developing countries.
Friends of the Earth is taking the government to court for contradicting UK climate policy. Its campaigner, Rachel Kennerley, said: “The government is keen to talk up its climate plans, yet it pours billions into oil and gas projects globally.”
The prime minister is said to have felt “bounced” into accepting the Mozambique project, but he’s not announced any revision so far.
What about oil and gas in UK waters? Scientists say fossil fuel firms have already found far more hydrocarbons than society can burn without major damage to the climate.
Yet the government aims to enhance oil and gas production in the North Sea.
The UK Oil and Gas Authority said the fuels would form an important part of the UK energy mix for the foreseeable future.
The government is reviewing the offshore licensing regime to make it “greener”, while preserving jobs.
OGUK’s chief executive Deirdre Michie said this is “an opportunity to shine a light on how our industry is changing”.
Oxford University’s Prof Myles Allen says firms extracting fossil fuels should pay to dispose of the resulting CO2 emissions by the technique of carbon capture and storage (CCS).
Meanwhile, there’s even a bid to resurrect production of the dirtiest fuel, coal, in the UK.
The Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick is deliberating over a decision on whether to allow a new deep mine to extract coal from under the sea in Cumbria.
Environmentalists say it’s irrational to look for more of something there’s too much of already. The coal firm says it will create 500 jobs.
Farming in the UK is emerging as a substantial source of greenhouse gases.
Ministers say their post-Brexit subsidy regime for farms will incentivise farmers to reduce emissions and capture CO2 in the soil and in trees.
Farmers are frustrated because no details – or cash – has been provided.
Protecting and restoring peat bogs is the simplest, quickest and cheapest way to combat climate change.
The moss covering the bogs locks carbon into the soil indefinitely, unlike trees which soak up CO2 then release it when they rot.
Ministers have promised a strategy to protect peat, but the PM hasn’t put laws into place. A £40m grant for countryside restoration announced previously is said to be a fraction of what’s needed.
The Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change, which brought together people from all walks of life to discuss solutions to global warming, foresees a gradual reduction in meat-eating over coming decades to meet emissions targets.
But campaigners say the prime minister should take a public lead on this issue by pledging to eat less meat and inviting others to follow suit.
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