Johnson, Eco-Warrior?

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COP26 – Source: The Spectator

Katy Balls is Deputy Political Editor at The Spectator magazine. Prime Minister Johnson was editor there before becoming an MP. Johnson’s new spokesperson Allegra Stratton is married to a senior Spectator journalist. The Spectator website says, ‘We uphold strict standards of accuracy’. It is clear therefore that they report accurately what is going on in Downing Street.

The Spectator’s April 17, 2021 cover article by Katy Balls ‘The green games: the Prime Minister’s big plan to rebrand Britain’, was a revelation. According to Katy Balls:

‘This government is determined to turn COP26, the United Nations Climate Change Conference scheduled to be held in Glasgow in the first two weeks of November, into a great event to put Britain on the map. There had long been talk in government circles of a ‘Festival of Brexit’ — but now the Prime Minister sees environmentalism as the great unifier’.

‘With one giant eco-jamboree, it’s thought, the country can leave behind the miseries of the pandemic, set aside the agonies of our divorce from the EU, and even shore up the Union. The idea is that Britain can use COP26 to turn itself, once more, into a global force with great PR’.

No, Katy, this is political opportunism. What he is doing is turning a forum to save our planet into a platform for self-aggrandisement. Instead of focussing on the vital importance to the whole world of securing meaningful advances in protecting the planet from man-made global warming, climate change, and habitat and species loss, he fabricates a public relations success to divert voters’ minds from a diabolical Brexit and a diabolical pandemic. He wants them to see him alongside other world leaders and celebrities in a massive 12-day-long photo-opportunity.

Katy Balls continues:

‘Aides are brainstorming ways to encourage a green frenzy. Discussions over the right choice of cuddly mascot for the occasion are under way…..  To bolster patriotic pride, Union flags could be projected on to Glasgow’s landmarks….There are whispers of an Olympic-style low-carbon torch procession across the country in the build-up. The pièce de résistance of the summit could be a David Attenborough cameo’.

‘But can that be done while keeping the red-wall supporters sweet? The government’s idea is to push an environmental agenda that doesn’t cost the earth for working-class voters. Johnson recently declared in an interview with the Sun that there will be no taxes on meat or carbon on his watch. This may come as a surprise to Treasury officials, who calculated that the cost of the ‘net zero’ target — set by Theresa May — was about £1,000 billion’… but, ‘Who wants to spoil the upcoming COP party by asking who foots the bill?’

Of course, all this planning for the ‘Green Games’ shouldn’t come as a surprise. We’ve always known that Johnson placed hype, slogans, cheap popularity and superficiality over honesty and substantive reality. Just look at the propaganda surrounding Brexit, a textbook case of lies, myths, irresponsibility, carelessness and casualness, a ‘Torrent of Tosh’, from beginning to end.

Don’t listen to what they say, look at what they do

Looking at the recent Government environmental record we have:

  • Reduced personal financial incentives to switch to an electric vehicle
  • ‘Green homes’ grant scheme, a flagship policy, closed
  • New gas and oil North Sea exploration licences issued
  • Go-ahead for the new HS2 railway at a cost of £40 billion or more, causing the destruction of 180 woodlands
  • Support for airport expansion
  • Big new road-building programme announced
  • Planning laws weakened to reduce potential for local objections, clearing the way for big housebuilding on green belt land
  • Fuel tax accelerator halted for 11 years
  • Taxes on domestic flights reduced
  • Bee-killing insecticides allowed on farmland (policy now paused)
  • Green light for new coal mine in Cumbria (now subject to Public Inquiry)
  • Support for Australia’s climate-sceptic former minister Matthias Cormann as head of the OECD
  • 0.2% cut to foreign aid budget.

The Ten Point Plan

The Prime Minister set out his ambitions for a ‘green industrial revolution’ in a Ten Point Plan in November 2020. The plan mobilises £12 billion of government investment. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said:

“My Ten Point Plan will create, support and protect hundreds of thousands of green jobs, whilst making strides towards net zero by 2050.

“Our green industrial revolution will be powered by the wind turbines of Scotland and the North East, propelled by the electric vehicles made in the Midlands and advanced by the latest technologies developed in Wales, so we can look ahead to a more prosperous, greener future.”

In the latest development (Independent, 21 April 2021), Prime Minister Johnson has pledged that the UK would cut emissions, including those by aircraft and shipping for the first time, by 78 per cent by 2035, compared with 1990 levels. This is indeed a world-leading target and will encourage other attendees at COP26. But targets are an illusion of action unless they are backed up by effective and robust actions and co-ordinated plans, which are actually implemented, to achieve them, and that is what is unclear at present. Greenpeace UK’s head of politics, Rebecca Newsom, said the move “makes destructive projects like new road-building and airport expansion even harder to justify”.

The Ten Point Plan is nowhere near enough

It is mostly ‘future promises’, depending on ‘happy surprises’, not unreasonable in themselves, which may or may not come to pass, depending on whether technology does or does not deliver improvements, and whether or not economic and political circumstances change. Of the Ten Points, eight have been ‘ongoing’ for years, and have not so far delivered much in the way of climate change amelioration. For example:

  • using ‘hydrogen’ as a fuel;
  • developing ‘next generation nuclear plants’;
  • ‘public transport, cycling and walking’;
  • ‘zero emissions for ships and planes’;
  • ‘carbon capture’;
  • ‘planting more trees’;
  • research into ‘new cutting edge technologies’.

Hope value, yes. Bankable climate change gains and emission reductions, no.

Looking at what the Government haven’t done, for example:

  • Nothing fundamental to change the way UK Government, business, society, families and individuals think and behave about climate change;
  • No ‘Government Department by Government Department’, or ‘Industry by Industry’ analysis and over-arching coordinated action to change behaviour at a fundamental level;
  • No really serious Government funding for green investment, green education and training, green behaviour-change, on the massive scale needed to meet the massive scale of the challenge;
  • No ‘right now’ measures, which can be done at the stroke of a legislative or administrative pen, to reduce environmental damage, for example, extra disincentivising taxes on polluters, lower speed limits, resource-use reduction or waste management plans;
  • Nothing to engage opposition parties in cross-party agreements for the long term;
  • Nothing fundamental to promote more sustainable agriculture, fisheries, forestry, flood-risk alleviation, air quality, waste management, sewerage control for example.
  • Delays to the Transport decarbonisation plan, the Environmental land management scheme, the Environment Bill and the England tree and peat strategy.

As Greta Thunberg said,

“We don’t just want promises, and we’ve heard a lot. We want you to act.”

Government failed in its duty of care to protect the public from Covid19, and it is appearing to fail again in protecting us from climate change.

Nothing less than an all-embracing, determined and focussed revolution in policies, at a fundamental, long-term and cross-party level, is required in the UK before the Prime Minister can declare that the UK is a world -leader in bringing climate change to a standstill. That is not happening at the moment. Such a revolution is not likely to be voter-friendly, unless it is accompanied by huge public education and shifts in public and society attitudes on a scale similar to the public’s coronavirus buy-in that has been seen in accepting lockdown and other preventive measures for a major emergency. Climate change is a major emergency, a looming and predictably certain catastrophe, which requires a deep and wide-ranging major reshaping of all our activities and behaviours. Government hasn’t seen or understood or probably prefers not to see that.

There is no evidence that the Government are considering anything profound like that. What they seem to be hoping and planning for is that a massive public relations exercise centred around a patriotic or even jingoistic, British-exceptionalist COP26, will bring voters on board to the Conservative Party, keep the new red-wall voters sweet, and see them through to a majority at the next election. Obscured will be the fact that their Environmental policies are nowhere near fundamental or far-reaching enough to be sure to be really effective, and that their Ten Point Plan is mostly Greenwash and hogwash, and certainly not ‘world-leading’. Sweeties for the electorate, and hope something turns up in the longer term.

Appearance over reality. Power before principle. The heart of the Conservative Party. 

Katy Balls again:

The real force driving Johnson could be political self-interest. Done right, it’s argued, COP26 could give the Tories a boost as they look towards a fifth term……

Ed Miliband, shadow business secretary, said:

“The character of this government on climate change is now clear: targets without delivery. So while any strengthening of our targets is the right thing to do, the government can’t be trusted to match rhetoric with reality. Ministers have failed to bring forward an ambitious green recovery. We need a government that treats the climate emergency as the emergency it is.”

Johnson, Eco-Warrior? No. Just cynical opportunist.

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