Boris Johnson has announced what the government has called a “Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution”, claiming it will bring 250,000 green jobs to the UK.
But of the £12 billion announced yesterday, a government spokesperson told FactCheck that just £3 billion is new money. The rest is recycled from manifesto pledges and announcements made earlier this year. The day after these announcements, £16 billion of new money was pledged for the defence budget.
Crucially, as they stand, the cumulative carbon savings of each new policy will not be enough to meet the UK’s current climate targets, which it is failing, let alone be enough for the path to net zero by 2050. Policy gaps remain.
We are going to look at those ten pledges and what they mean.
To understand the announcement it must be seen as one of the government’s first concrete efforts to lay out how – not just why – the UK will achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, a commitment it made last year.
The announcement covers the scaling up of some old, tried-and-tested technologies like wind, as well as research investment into new ones which do not yet exist at commercial scale, like hydrogen and carbon capture.
The context here is that the UK has made huge progress on cutting carbon emissions – but mostly from its electricity generation. It has fallen behind on polluting areas like transport and heating, and is currently set to fail to meet its own targets.
Experts say there are some good first steps in this week’s announcement on what will be a literal transformation of how we live, work and travel as part of the net zero goal. But they are just first steps.
Professor Dave Reay, chair in carbon management and education at University of Edinburgh, told the Science Media Centre: “This is a welcome set of initiatives, but only a small downpayment on what must become a economy-wide revolution in green investment, skills and jobs.”
Dr Jonathan Marshall, head of analysis at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) told FactCheck: “This is really just setting the tone, and setting the scene – the prime minister of a big economy standing up and saying we’re going to get to net zero and this is an outline of how were going to do it. And then obviously there’s a lot more work to do in terms of how it’ll actually happen, and how to make it fair.”
Here is a rundown of each of the ten points.
Electric vehicles: “Backing our world-leading car manufacturing bases including in the West Midlands, North East and North Wales to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles, and transforming our national infrastructure to better support electric vehicles.”
The announcement which has made the biggest splash is that the government will ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars after 2030, and hybrids after 2035. This is not a new idea in itself – it started life as a 2040 ban, and then got moved forward to 2035 earlier this year. Still, the government’s own statutory advisers on climate change, the Climate Change Committee (CCC), who are normally way out ahead of the government in terms of ambition, had suggested a 2032 ban would suffice. The government has gone two years beyond that, alongside promising £1.3 billion for developing the chargepoint network, £582 million for grants to help people buy electric vehicles, and nearly £500 million to develop new, large scale battery storage – which are all new commitments. Marshall told FactCheck this could have a domino effect with other countries thinking about similar moves on vehicles.
Offshore wind: “Producing enough offshore wind to power every home, quadrupling how much we produce to 40GW by 2030, supporting up to 60,000 jobs”
This is not new, but is still a big move, says Marshall. The 40GW target was originally in the 2019 Conservative manifesto and further details were given just last month. Still, experts say this much offshore wind could be enough to meet half of the UK’s current electricity demand.
Homes and public buildings: “Making our homes, schools and hospitals greener, warmer and more energy efficient, whilst creating 50,000 jobs by 2030, and a target to install 600,000 heat pumps every year by 2028.”
Homes and heating has been an area the UK’s been lagging behind on. Marshall told FactCheck that many of these announcements are needed, but that they start from a very low rung. The 600,000 heat pump commitment, which is a way of heating homes electrically, is new and is a huge jump on current rates. The CCC, however, says the UK needs 1.5 million heat pumps by 2030.
Kevin Anderson, professor of energy and climate change at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, told the Science Media Centre: “For the UK’s more than 25 million homes, the plan offers just pennies to retrofit these, scarcely scratching the huge scale of the challenge of making UK homes low carbon and climate resilient.”
Nuclear: “Advancing nuclear as a clean energy source, across large scale nuclear and developing the next generation of small and advanced reactors, which could support 10,000 jobs.”
This is one of the more cryptic points in the announcement, Marshall told FactCheck. There are a number of large potential nuclear sites waiting in some stage of development in the UK, but final investment decisions have stalled because of their huge costs. The only nuclear station the UK is currently building, Hinkley Point C, is currently estimated to be costing £22 billion, and the price consumers will be paying for the electricity it produces is projected to be at least twice future market prices. Neither the government or industry has devised a widely accepted way of bringing those costs down yet, but large large public subsidies are almost certain to be involved, and this week’s announcement was expected to signal a clear direction forward. While it is still not clear what will happen for large scale nuclear plants, the “next generation of small and advanced reactors” are very much still a research project for now – the £525 million research funding is new but some experts doubt whether it will ever make these small reactors cheap enough to actually be made.
Hydrogen: “Working with industry aiming to generate 5GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030 for industry, transport, power and homes, and aiming to develop the first town heated entirely by hydrogen by the end of the decade.”
Hydrogen is one of the newer areas which has the potential to replace many of the things we currently use oil and gas for, like heating or the huge amounts of energy needed for steel and cement production. The question is what the government means by “low carbon hydrogen”, because it can either be made from natural gas (blue hydrogen) or from water (green hydrogen). The latter is the only zero carbon way of making it, but is still in early stages of large-scale development. Many of the companies backing hydrogen are oil companies like Shell and BP, and critics say they are involved because making blue hydrogen will allow them to continue to sell high-carbon natural gas.
Euan Nisbet, professor of earth sciences at Royal Holloway, told the Science Media Centre: “Hydrogen is indeed an excellent vector of energy, and making so-called ‘green’ hydrogen is a superb way to store excess wind power generated offshore during winter nights. But how it is best used needs much thought. It’s going to be very important to choose the right path.”
Carbon capture: “Becoming a world-leader in technology to capture and store harmful emissions away from the atmosphere, with a target to remove 10MT of carbon dioxide by 2030, equivalent to all emissions of the industrial Humber today.”
Similarly to hydrogen, carbon capture could have some role to play in decarbonisation as it can remove unavoidable emissions that would otherwise be put into the atmosphere. The government’s already been giving research money to try and get it off the ground for decades, and there are still only a couple of successful commercial projects anywhere in the world. The 10MT target is new, as well as the funding for four industrial clusters across the UK. Marshall told FactCheck both carbon capture and hydrogen could have a role to play in decarbonisation, but neither are the panacea they are sometimes seen as.
Jet Zero and greener maritime: “Supporting difficult-to-decarbonise industries to become greener through research projects for zero-emission planes and ships.”
The Jet Zero announcement first came earlier this year. Aviation is extremely difficult to decarbonise, and hopes for electric planes or alternative fuels that can be used at scale are still a challenge. Many green campaigners say the only way to really decrease emissions here is to fly less.
Public transport, cycling and walking: “Making cycling and walking more attractive ways to travel and investing in zero-emission public transport of the future.”
Here there is £5 billion for green transport, but this was first announced in February.
Nature: “Protecting and restoring our natural environment, planting 30,000 hectares of trees every year, whilst creating and retaining thousands of jobs.”
The 30,000 hectare announcement was in the 2019 Conservative Manifesto, and Marshall told FactCheck that the proper protection and restoration of nature – which has a significant carbon-storing role – should have seen new, more ambitious targets being set.
Innovation and finance: “Developing the cutting-edge technologies needed to reach these new energy ambitions and make the City of London the global centre of green finance.”
More details will be needed to see what this entails, though a lot of investment – public and private – will be needed to realise many of the plans announced this week. The government announced a new Green Investment Bank earlier this year, after scrapping the original in 2015.
Dr Hugh Hunt, co-director at the Centre for Climate Repair at University of Cambridge, told the Science Media Centre: “We cannot underestimate the scale of engineering and endeavour that is required to meet the target of net-zero by 2050 and this target must not be missed. The costs – which will be eye-watering – of developing and scaling up zero and negative emissions technologies will be met by this and future governments This is a good start but a drop in the ocean.”