With COP26 taking place in Glasgow next month, this could be the world’s last chance to avert a climate catastrophe.
Luckily, we’re sending Boris Johnson, problem-solver extraordinaire, to save the day.
This is a man who has openly said; that he doesn’t believe humans have had any part to play in climate change. So this begs the question of what he’s taking to COP26!
In this blog, we look at Boris’ answer to tackling climate change; his report, the ‘10 Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution.’
If you’re curious about what he’ll be taking to the international table, read on…
How it all started
Assuming you know what climate change is; (or more than the PM anyway); let’s just jump into what the UK’s been doing to address it…
In 2008, the UK passed the Climate Change Act; committing to an 80% reduction in carbon emissions relative to 1990 levels.
But things have been getting a bit hairy. And Greta’s been on the case…
So, in 2015, the UK (led by Theresa May) signed the Paris Agreement; which committing us to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
This made the UK the first major economy in the world to legislate for a Net Zero by 2050.
What is ‘Net Zero’?
Despite the somewhat misleading name, ‘net zero’ doesn’t mean that we must have zero emissions. This would be impossible with the way we live and work today.
The Institute for Government explains that net zero means:
“achieving a balance between the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere.”
In other words; unavoidable greenhouse gas emissions, need to be matched by removing the equivalent from the atmosphere.
Was Boris on board with the Paris Agreement?
Boris Johnson inherited the task of achieving Net Zero from Theresa May.
So, did he share in the vision?
In a word, no.
Boris was denying the existence of climate change altogether when the Paris agreement was being signed in 2015.
In an article in the Daily Telegraph, he says:
“global leaders are driven by a primitive fear that the present ambient warm weather is somehow caused by humanity; and that fear – as far as I understand the science – is equally without foundation”.
He’s since tried to pretend that his comments were twenty years ago, and they were just ‘obiter dicta’. I’ve got other words for them.
Anyway, let’s hope he understands the science a bit better now. Climate change isn’t a primitive fear, and humans are responsible.
Whether he understands that or not, is anyone’s guess. But his so-called ‘green revolution’ is certainly a full 360 from his previous remarks.
Is he the best man to be leading any sort of climate revolution?! Time will tell…
What is the 10-point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution?
The government released ‘The Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution’ in November 2020. Its purpose is to provide a plan of how we’ll achieve our ambitious national priority of net zero by 2050.
Boris and his ‘Task Force Zero’; have set aside a total of £12 billion in government investment for the job.
The 10-point plan outlines how the investment will be spent. So lets take a closer look…
1. Advancing Offshore Wind
Wind has its uses, and not just for drying your washing!
Offshore wind already powers the equivalent of 4.5 million homes every year. And generates over 10% of the UK’s electricity; according to RenewableUK.
And we should be using it more. Not least because the cost has fallen by 50% since 2015. Wind power is one of the lowest cost options for new power in the UK.
The capacity of the UK’s offshore turbines has grown from 1GW to almost 10GW between 2010 and 2020. But the government’s plan is to quadruple this to 40GW by 2030!
The Global Wind Energy Council are dubious about how realistic this is, describing the target as “ambitious”. Aurora Energy Research goes further by pointing out the two flaws in this plan.
Firstly, we’d have to install one turbine every weekday during the whole of the 2020s, which we’re currently not doing. And secondly, we would need £50bn in capital investment, rather than the £160m allocated in the plan.
And if private investment were to be an option; we need to massively improve the speed at which we issue seabed licences. A concern raised by the Chief Executive of Scottish Power, Keith Anderson.
2. Driving the Growth of Low Carbon Hydrogen
So, what about Hydrogen then? There’s certainly been talk of it in the news.
Hydrogen can provide us with electricity. And if blended with natural gas, it could help to decarbonize existing natural gas grids.
The CCC has described hydrogen as a “credible” option for reducing the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions if used “selectively”.
Boris says he wants to work with industry to generate 5GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030.
But what he means by ‘low carbon’ hydrogen isn’t totally clear. He could be referring to blue hydrogen, which is made from natural gas; or green hydrogen; which is made from water.
Green hydrogen is the only zero carbon option. Using blue hydrogen would still allow companies like Shell and BP to sell high-carbon natural gas.
Up to £500m has been allocated for developing hydrogen, some of which includes trials in homes.
Hydrogen test facilities
National Grid is partnering with Northern Gas Networks (NGN) in a £10 million project with Fluxys Belgium. They’re building a pioneering offline hydrogen test facility in Cumbria.
We’re only starting the trial stage though. And achieving the goal of generating 5GW of hydrogen power by 2030 poses a huge challenge.
Households would need to replace 25 million gas boilers over the next 20 years; at a rate of 600,000 a year by 2028.
And whilst some manufacturers are selling their boilers as ‘hydrogen ready’, this is slightly misleading, because they all are!
The CCC doesn’t think it’s prudent to rely solely on hydrogen to replace gas anyway.
They estimate that this would only provide emissions savings of 60-85% relative to gas use in boilers. And even with large-scale rollout of hydrogen from gas; the UK could still fall short of net zero.
Chris Stark, chief executive of the CCC warns that simply converting the current gas grid to hydrogen; would also double the amount of gas imports in 2050 compared to today.
A key recommendation of the CCC is to roll-out “hybrid heat pump” systems. This is where Hydrogen boilers provide backup for electric heat pumps.
Analysts such as Futurebuild and National Grid emphasize that the energy efficiency of homes; buildings; and businesses; needs to be massively improved before net zero is possible.
So, it seems that hydrogen is just one piece of a much bigger picture.
3. Delivering New and Advanced Nuclear Power
Surprised to see nuclear power mentioned in a document advocating a green revolution? You’re not alone!
Nuclear power doesn’t produce any immediate carbon emissions, so some view it as a ‘clean’ form of power.
EDF energy are currently building the Hinkley C nuclear power plant. They emphasize that nuclear power is important, when there is limited wind and sun to feed wind turbines and solar panels.
Boris is considering the building of both traditional large scale power plants and small “next generation” advanced modular reactors; which he said could support 10,000 jobs. Work is already starting on this.
Hinckley Point C
The UK’s new Hinkley Point C reactor could cost over £25 billion by the time it’s finished. Greenpeace describe it as “the most expensive object on Earth”.
The government is also looking for a 100-plus hectare site for a prototype nuclear fusion power plant, called the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP).
The fusion reactor would reproduce the way the sun makes energy, by fusing hydrogen together to make helium.
This advancement of nuclear power isn’t popular with everyone though. It’s hard to think about nuclear power without the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters coming to mind.
Where there are no accidents, nuclear power generates huge quantities of waste which needs to be disposed of safely.
The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) issued a statement condemning the planned expansion of nuclear power.
CND general secretary Kate Hudson said: “There is no clean nuclear. Whatever the size, nuclear power stations are dirty, dangerous, and expensive. We need to decarbonise as fast as possible. But the best way to do that is through huge investment in renewables.”
Greenpeace echo these sentiments, saying that the huge sums of money that nuclear power plants cost to build; would be better invested in “truly clean” energy; such as wind power.
4. Accelerating the Shift to Zero Emission Vehicles
You can’t have missed this one!
Unsurprisingly, there’s been a lot of media attention on the banning of the sale of petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2030.
The government has brought forward the ban, which had originally been planned for 2040.
Although electric cars have grown in popularity, the figures are still low. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders show; says that electric cars still only make up around 7% of new vehicles bought in the UK. And currently, electricity powers fewer than 1% of cars on UK roads.
The government’s plan forecasts that the ban will help to cut car emissions; from 68 m to 48 m tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2030.
Problems with the scheme
Whilst this is an improvement; the figure is still almost 40% higher than the target set by the CCC; to cut car emissions to 32.8 m tonnes by 2030.
Ben Nelmes, the head of policy at New Automotive; says that the ban still leaves 21m polluting vehicles on the road by the end of the decade.
A further potential problem is the funding allocated for the scheme. The government plan allocates £1.3 billion for new car charging infrastructure and £582 million in grants for buying electric cars.
This seems like a small sum. Particularly when you consider that in March 2020; Rishi Sunak announced a £27bn programme of road building; including a fund of £500m just for filling potholes!
Edmund King, president of the Automobile Association, says the plan is ‘optimistic’. And pointed out that only about 6% of local authorities have installed on-street charging facilities in residential areas.
The CCC stresses the need for a ‘modal shift’; including increasing the use of public transport; as well as cycling and walking.
5. Green Public Transport, Cycling and Walking
As well as electric cars, the government wants to encourage greener public transport, cycling and walking.
Boris just says the aim is to make cycling and walking more attractive ways to travel. And there will be investment in zero-emission public transport ‘in the future’. How it wants to do this is unclear.
There’s clearly a long way to go with this. In 2018, cycling made up just 1% of the mileage accumulated by all road traffic; while cars and taxis together accounted for 77%.
This is pretty shameful when you look at the Dutch. In Amsterdam, in 2017, 68% of traffic to and from work or school was by bike.
Sustrans, custodians of the National Cycle Network; welcome the plan but warn that the government needs to build on the £2bn promised for walking and cycling.
Again, the £2bn allocated to walking and cycling initiatives seems very low; when compared to the £27bn investment in road building over the next five years.
Mick Cash, general secretary of the National Union of Rail; Maritime; and Transport Workers; was critical of the plan, calling it “disappointing” and lacking in detail.
He believes we should be focusing on the rail industry.
6. Jet Zero and Green Ships
A whopping 2% of global greenhouse gases come from air travel, and emissions have risen by 70% since 2005.
The International Civil Aviation Organization says we need to prevent emissions from increasing by 300% by 2050.
To drive down this figure; Boris has made a play on the words ‘net zero’ with his ambition to achieve ‘jet zero’. This is a commercial transatlantic flight producing no carbon emissions by 2025.
Many experts dismiss the plan as a gimmick.
Short-range electric flight is already possible (after using traditional fuel to get airborne). However, Gwyn Topham at The Guardian remarked:
“But as far as the technology goes, Johnson might have more luck building a garden bridge to France than getting British-made, long-haul, zero-emission passenger planes in service before 2050.”
The aviation industry says that long-haul electric or hydrogen planes are unlikely before the middle of the century, if ever.
By which time emissions should already have been cut to zero, so more efficient planes; carbon offsets; new taxes; and green jet fuels would be a better option.
Behavioural change is clearly key here. Greta Thunberg criticised the irony of people traveling by private jets to discuss climate change.
7. Greener Buildings
85% of UK homes are heated with natural gas, which has a substantial carbon footprint.
Heating is responsible for around 30% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.
As a proposed solution to this; the plan includes a target to install 600,000 heat pumps a year in British homes by 2028. However, the figure allocated for this, £9.2bn is nowhere near what the CCC has said is required.
According to the CCC, we need to be installing .5 million heat pumps every year by 2030; to meet the country’s net zero emissions commitment by 2050.
The plan also extends the Green Homes Grant and the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme for another year; and seeks to implement the Future Home Standard as soon as possible.
More on this later, when we look at how the government’s plan might specifically impact heating in the future.
8. Investing in Carbon Capture, Usage and Storage
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is the process of capturing and storing carbon dioxide (CO2); before releasing it into the atmosphere.
The technology can capture up to 90% of CO2 released by burning fossil fuels in electricity generation and industrial processes such as cement production.
In the UK, a £1 billion competition to develop CCS was dropped in 2015.
In September 2020, the International Energy Agency (IEA); said that without rapid investment in CCS around the world it will be “virtually impossible” to hit net zero in 2050.
The plan puts CCS back on the agenda. And not only that, states that the goal is for the UK to become a ‘world-leader’ in carbon capture. The target is to remove 10MT of carbon dioxide by 2030.
The IEA says we need to increase capacity tenfold by 2025; to be on track for meeting the goal of the Paris Agreement.
The Global CCS Institute estimates that 2,500 CCS facilities would need to be in operation by 2040 worldwide. Each would need to capture around 1.5 million tonnes of CO2 per year.
9. Protecting Our Natural Environment
The Woodland Trust describes trees as the “world’s ultimate carbon capture and storage machines”. Though photosynthesis, they absorb atmospheric carbon and lock it up for centuries.
The Trust highlights that although woods are our allies in the fight against climate change. However, trees only cover 13% of the UK (compared with an EU average of 37%).
The UK’s forests absorb about 10 million tonnes of CO2 a year. But the hope is to more than double that.
The plan aims to protect and restore the environment by planting 30,000 hectares of trees every year.
The CCC says this means planting between 90 to 120m trees per year; to increase the UK’s total forest cover from 13% to at least 17% of the country’s total area.
They forecast that this; alongside improved woodland management; would remove around 14 million tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere each year.
Liz Boivin, who runs Tomorrow’s Forests is concerned about staffing to support the government’s plans for a huge increase in planting.
Stuart Goodall, who runs Confor; says that there will also need to be a far greater supply of saplings. But British nurseries are wary of scaling up until they’re sure the government is serious about the numbers.
10. Green Finance and Innovation
The International Monetary Fund (IMF); explains that the financial sector has an important role to play in fighting climate change. Institutional investors can help with rebalancing and redistributing climate related risks and maintaining financial stability.
The plan looks at activities the financial sector could facilitate; including making the City of London the global centre of “green finance”.
Green finance is any structured financial activity that ensures a better environmental outcome. It can help firms concerned about their green credentials decarbonise their investment portfolios.
The government’s plan is to issue the UK’s first Sovereign Green Bond in 2021. Green bonds allocate proceeds to environmental projects. These bonds will help finance sustainable projects, finance much-needed infrastructure investment and create green jobs across the country.
In November, Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced the introduction of more robust environmental disclosure standards.
The UK will become the first country in the world; to make Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD); fully mandatory across the economy by 2025. This goes beyond the ‘comply or explain’ approach.
How does the plan specifically relate to the future of heating? – Point 7: Greener Buildings
Point 7 of the 10-point plan focuses on making buildings ‘greener’. According to the CCC, energy use in homes accounts for about 14% of UK greenhouse gas emissions.
These emissions need to fall by at least 24% by 2030 from 1990 levels. But in 2017, the annual temperature-adjusted emissions from buildings actually rose by around 1%.
Currently, just 1m of the UK’s 27m homes have low-carbon heat.
The plan aims to make buildings more energy efficient in the following ways:
· Gradual move away from fossil fuel boilers over the next fifteen years
A key commitment to ban gas boilers in new homes from 2023; was deleted from the Government’s plan, shortly after it was released.
The 2023 date was two years earlier than previously indicated by the government. Instead, the amended plan now talks about a ‘gradual move away’ from gas boilers to lower carbon, more efficient alternatives.
The plan now reads that the Future Homes Standard; which will ultimately ban fossil fuel boilers in new homes; will be introduced “in the shortest possible timeline”.
The CBI’s report says that from 2025, all new boiler installations must be part of a hybrid system or be ‘hydrogen-ready’.
The future of home heating
By 2035 no new natural gas boilers should be installed; and only air source or ground source heat pumps; or hydrogen powered boilers; should be installed.
The Home Builders Federation says that the change towards heat pumps and hydrogen boilers poses ‘enormous challenges’ for developers; suppliers; and energy firms; in terms of skills; design; and infrastructure.
Professor Martin Freer at the University of Birmingham, says that changing the beahviours of over 20m homes will be a huge challenge. It can’t just be changed at a systems level.
The plan has also been criticised by focusing solely on new build houses, rather than our existing housing stock.
This is largely due to cost. The CCC’s report says it would cost £26,300 to install low-carbon heating in an existing house. To install it in a new home, on the other hand, would only cost £4,800.
Greenpeace believes that it’s more important to focus on improving the energy efficiency of our ”shoddy” housing stock; rather than focusing on houses-to-be.
· Aim to install 600,000 heat pump installations per year by 2028
As part of the plan, Boris promises to install 600,000 heat pumps every year until 2028. And we all know he keeps his promises.
Heat pumps reduce carbon emissions by taking heat from outside (from the air or ground) to warm buildings.
When the Future Homes Standard comes into force in 2023 or 2025; new houses will not be able to have gas boilers installed; and will need heat pumps instead.
There are also plans for people who replace their existing gas boilers with a heat pump; to receive financial incentives; under the Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) and the green homes grant.
This commitment is a bold ambition; given that last year of the 1.6m boilers installed in the UK; only about 25,000 were heat pumps and the rest were traditional gas units.
Even if reaching 600, 000 heat pumps is possible; the CCC says that it won’t be enough. 1.5 million heat pumps need to be installed every year by 2030; to meet the net zero target by 2050.
Critics of the plan highlight that heat pumps are up to four times more expensive than conventional boilers. This poses a huge challenge to hitting the government target.
Advocates of hydrogen argue that the zero-carbon gas can be delivered through the existing gas grid; without the need to install expensive heat pumps.
● Extending the Green Homes Grant and the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme for another year
A total of £1bn will be spent next year by extending The Green Homes Grant and Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme.
Under the Green Homes Grant Scheme; homeowners and landlords can apply for vouchers of up to £5,000. These go towards the cost of installing energy efficient and low-carbon heating improvements in their homes.
When it first launched there was a tight six-month deadline to get any work done. But it has now been extended until 31 March 2022.
The Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme provides grants to public bodies to carry out energy efficiency projects in non-residential dwellings.
Whether the government can keep up with the demand is another matter. Bloomberg says that so far; only 267 grants have been handed out; and a backlog has built up.
● Seek to implement the Future Home Standard as soon as possible
The plan states that to ‘future-proof new buildings and avoid the need for costly retrofit’; the Future Home Standard in the shortest possible timeline.
The Future Homes Standard requires all new build homes to be fitted with low carbon heating; and ‘world leading’ levels of energy efficiency.
An average home built to this new standard; would have 75-80% less carbon emissions; than one built to current energy efficiency requirements under Approved Document L 2013.
This is achievable through very high fabric standards and a low carbon heating system. A new home built to the Future Homes Standard might have a heat pump; triple glazing; and standards for walls; floors; and roofs; that significantly limit any heat loss.
The HBF established The Future Homes Task Force, to develop a roadmap for delivery of the Future Homes Standard.
Last year the HBF’s director of external affairs, John Slaughter; described meeting the new target as “a challenge and a huge area of work” for the industry.
Problems with the scheme
Many environmental groups such as GreenPeace, have criticised the proposals. They argue that they would not produce sufficiently radical reductions of carbon emissions.
The Mayor of London and the UK Green Building Council; argued strongly against revisions to the law which would strip councils of the power to set their own; higher; energy efficiency standards.
BRE Group is concerned that the government’s proposals risk falling short of their objectives. Because: “they are likely to encourage a culture of design for compliance rather than performance.”
The CCC said that the plans ‘do not go far enough to reduce carbon emissions’. And will result in homes that will need retrofitting before 2050 to meet the UK’ net-zero carbon goal.
Architects Declare says the government’s plans are ‘a step backwards just when we need to make a huge leap forward.’
How has the 10-point plan been received?
We all understand the importance of tackling climate change, so the government’s plan has been welcomed in principle. However, the first problem is that it reads more as a wish list, rather than a clear plan of action.
Caroline Lucas, the Green party MP, condemned the plan as vague and underpowered. She said:
“This is a shopping list. Not a plan to address the climate emergency. And it commits only a fraction of the necessary resources.”
Future build commented:
“The plan must be accompanied by detail. At the moment; it is a list; and heavy on ribbon-cutting and grand-sounding measures. It must be translated into the nitty-gritty throughout the policy and financial framework; otherwise it risks being poorly implemented; lacking credibility; and being ineffective alongside inconsistent policies.”
Sharing the same sentiments, Dr Jonathan Marshall, head of analysis at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) stated:
“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 happen; and how to make it fair.”
Has enough money been allocated?
The second problem with the plan is that the allocated funding sounds pretty pitiful for the momentous task at hand.
The CCC says that tackling carbon emissions from heating alone could cost up to £500bn; making the £4bn commitment seem insufficient for any sort of ‘revolution’ to occur.
Green Party co-leader Sian Berry,described the allocated funds as “beyond inadequate”. Particularly compared to the government’s £27bn road building program.
Simon Roach, from Channel 4 Factcheck, highlights that of the £12 billion announced for the green revolution; just £3 billion is new money.
The rest is recycled from manifesto pledges and announcements made earlier this year.
Just the day after the announcement of £12bn in funding for the green revolution was announced; £16 billion of new money was pledged for the defence budget.
Shadow secretary of state for energy and climate change; Ed Miliband said:
“The funding in the government’s long-awaited 10-point plan doesn’t remotely meet the scale of what’s needed … it pales in comparison to the tens of billions committed by France and Germany”.
Governments have been making promises and issuing stark warnings on climate change since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. But have failed to take decisive action.
The eye-catching and headline-grabbing announcements in the 10-point plan have certainly got the conversation going. And send a strong political signal; but real change needs more than rhetoric and a lot more investment than has been allocated so far.
It seems for the moment at least; this roadmap won’t do enough to meet the government’s carbon targets. More is needed for a credible decarbonisation strategy ahead of COP26.
The Government’s ’10-Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution’:
Foreword from the Prime Minister on the 10-point plan:
The government’s consultation paper on the future homes standard:
Science News article on Boris Johnson’s change of stance on climate change:
Independent article on Boris Johnson’s ‘impossible’ pledges
Renewable UK article on the proposals for offshore wind:
The Committee for Climate Change (CCC) article on the 10-point plan:
Institute for Government article on the 10-point plan:
UN article on climate change:
IPCC report on global warming:
Aurora Energy research reposne to 10 point plan:
Smart energy article on the first hydrogen town:
CND article on nuclear power as a ‘clean’ energy source
Greenpeace article on net zero
Sustrans response to the 10 point plan:
CCC article on hydrogen in a low carbon economy