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10-point-plan-media-coverage
MEDIA ANALYSIS
18 November 2020 17:54

Media reaction: Boris Johnson’s ‘10-point’ net-zero plan for climate change

Carbon Brief Staff

Multiple Authors

11.18.20
Media analysisMedia reaction: Boris Johnson’s ‘10-point’ net-zero plan for climate change

The UK prime minister Boris Johnson has announced a long-awaited “10-point plan” laying out measures to scale up the nation’s climate ambition.

These policy proposals and funding packages have been framed as a means to create jobs, promote a “green recovery” from Covid-19 and help the UK achieve its net-zero emissions target by 2050.

A ban by 2030 on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars is the most eye-catching policy, but there is also around £4bn in new funding for a variety of emissions-cutting proposals.

There has been blanket coverage across UK newspapers of the plan, with the story appearing on the frontpages of the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph, the Financial Times, the Times and the Independent

After nearly two days of media coverage, the government published a policy document laying out more details of its strategy and stating it was “only the start” of its net-zero plans.

In this article, Carbon Brief has documented what the prime minister has proposed, how the media has responded and how the measures stack up against the UK’s legally binding net-zero emissions goal.

It also examines each of the sectors targeted in the plan and how they have been addressed.

‘Green industrial revolution’

Johnson laid out how he wanted the plan to be viewed in an opinion piece for the Financial Times, published on the evening of its release.

The article talks of a “green industrial revolution” that will invest £12bn of government funds, create 250,000 green jobs and help drive a green recovery from Covid-19 by “build[ing] back better”:

“This 10-point plan will turn the UK into the world’s number one centre for green technology and finance, creating the foundations for decades of economic growth.” 

He also described it as a “global template for delivering net-zero emissions” ahead of the UK hosting the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow next year.

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the launch of the next COP26 UN Climate Summit at the Science Museum in London.
The Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the launch of the next COP26 UN Climate Summit at the Science Museum in London. Credit: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo.

However, there was much discussion in the media and the climate community of the significance of Johnson’s plan and to what extent it would set the UK on course for its 2050 net-zero goal.

Some of this debate is captured in a Twitter thread by Carbon Brief’s policy editor Simon Evans, who concludes that, while the new announcement is substantial, it alone will not be enough to get the UK to net-zero.

The Financial Times reported that the plan is a “far cry” from what will be needed to reach net-zero emissions, citing “climate experts”.

Quoting the detailed policy document that was released a full day after the original announcement was released to journalists, the newspaper stated:

 “The government estimates the plan will save more than 180m tonnes of CO2 emissions during the 2023 to 2032 period, which is slightly more than half the UK’s annual emissions right now.” 

This official breakdown was not published until the end of the working day and, therefore, did not find its way into most of the reporting on the 10-point plan. 

There was no mention in the media of those emissions savings only closing 55% of the gap to meeting the UK’s approaching, legally binding climate goals and, therefore, falling far short of the government’s net-zero ambitions.

The government’s policy document stated “this is only the start”. It mentioned plans to “devise further sectoral plans and meet our carbon budgets and target of net-zero by 2050”. It also referenced working with industry and creating a “task force net-zero”.

New Scientist also asked if the plan is enough to reach net-zero, noting that “in general, the plan’s most obvious shortcoming is money”, but adding that it “would be churlish not to acknowledge bold new targets”.

The Guardian reported that, despite the headline £12bn figure, the opposition Labour party pointed out that “at best” £4bn from the new announcement is new money. For context, BBC News’s energy and environment analyst Roger Harrabin said the “total amount of new money announced in the package is a 25th of the projected £100bn cost of high-speed rail, HS2”.

However, following the first wave of reporting, it emerged that the amount of new funding may be even smaller. Another Guardian piece quoted a government spokesperson who said “of the £12bn, £3bn of it is brand-new investment”.

The public funds are spread across nuclear power, charging infrastructure, energy efficiency in homes, carbon capture and storage (CCS) and nature restoration. (More details can be found in the sections below.)

The Daily Telegraph reported that the government’s spending plans are “dwarfed by figures pledged in other major European nations”, while BusinessGreen said the UK will need to invest an extra £400bn this decade on the way to net-zero, according to consultancy PwC.

However, the Guardian noted that “some say proposed public funding is too little while others say key is galvanising private capital.” An article on the frontpage of the Daily Telegraph business section ran under the print headline: “Consumers to foot the bill for green revolution.”

Much of the coverage also pointed out that many of the policies, including 40 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind and support for tree planting, have already been announced.

Political climate

The announcement has come at a potentially pivotal time in UK climate policy. The government is expected to shortly release an energy white paper which will expand on the 10-point plan’s themes and propose future legislation, as BBC News reported.

Crucially, government advisers at the Climate Change Committee (CCC) will release their recommendations for the UK’s sixth carbon budget on 9 December, outlining a path to net-zero emissions. (Previous budgets have only been in line with the 80% emissions reduction target by 2050 that was formerly in place.)

In a frontpage story published ahead of the new announcement, the Independent quoted CCC chair Lord Deben, who said Johnson must immediately commit to a raft of fully funded policies if he hopes to be seen as “credible” on climate change.

BusinessGreen quoted Lord Deben responding to the plan saying he is “delighted to see the breadth of the prime minister’s commitment”, but it must now “be turned into a detailed road map”. BBC News Reality Check published a piece looking back at the record of UK governments on climate and other green targets.

The Financial Times noted that the plan is also “intended as a signal of intent as Britain prepares to host next year’s UN COP26 climate change summit”. 

It comes as the UK prepares to co-host a summit on 12 December to mark the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement, Climate Home News reported. There is speculation that the UK will announce a new nationally determined contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement around this time.

The Financial Times also described the announcement as a “reset” to plan a post-pandemic future and “move on after the chaotic infighting in Downing Street in recent days”.

It noted that allies of Johnson’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings, who quit last week, have argued that a shift towards green policies would “lose the party votes in former industrial areas”. 

The prime minister himself appeared to be pushing against this idea by emphasising the importance of green hubs in those same former industrial areas, namely Teesside, Port Talbot, Merseyside and Mansfield.

As a counterpoint, an article in Conservative Home looking ahead to Johnson’s plan emphasised the importance of Conservative MPs in “red wall” seats who won elections supporting green projects: “In short, parts of this Blue Wall, as we’re now told it should be called, are going green.”

Parts of the right-leaning press expressed dismay at Cummings’ departure and what it would mean for the government’s climate plans. An editorial in the Sunday Telegraph said it must not “mean caving in to the woke crowd or elevating the green agenda as [Johnson’s] primary mission”. 

This has not been the only source of internal opposition for the government, according to a frontpage story earlier in the week in the Observer. It revealed that “Johnson’s plans to relaunch his premiership with a blitz of announcements on combating climate change and the creation of tens of thousands of new green jobs are meeting stiff resistance from the cash-strapped Treasury”.

Finally, while the plans cover a variety of sectors, some media analysis has focused on key areas that have been omitted. A BBC News piece listed some of these, including farming, road building and overseas finance.

Editorials and commentary

The 10-point plan’s release triggered a wave of editorials and comment pieces in national newspapers.

An editorial in the Guardian said the ambition “is the right one, but with the current prime minister there is no guarantee that it will evolve beyond laudable intent”. It noted that much of the money had been announced before, but added:

“It is churlish to judge Mr Johnson’s move exclusively in cash terms. Money matters, but so does the message that Britain wants to be part of the global trend towards carbon-neutrality.”

The Financial Times editorial said Johnson’s plan has “plant[ed] a political flag”, but that a “detailed road map is needed to mobilise private capital”. It said the plan is a “commendable vision”, despite its “many gaps”.

The Daily Mirror described the plan as “more style than substance”, stating that while the plan is “welcome, the scale of what the PM is proposing is disappointingly limited”. 

For the lead editorial in the Times, the green plan was “ambitious but viable”, adding that “Labour says he should have gone further, and indeed he might have done.” It concluded:

“The plan is welcome not only because it makes economic sense, but because it provides political direction to a prime minister increasingly accused of not knowing what he wants to do with the luxury of an 80-seat commons majority. The Tories are right to seize greenery as a Conservative issue, because it is helping to conserve the planet and will foster new industries.” 

Others were less positive about the idea of a “green industrial revolution”, with the Daily Telegraph describing it as “a fine ambition”, but asking: “How will it work in practice?” It added: “What is questionable is not the ambition but the feasibility.”

A short editorial in the Daily Mail (not online, but tweeted) said the plan was “commendable”, but “ill-timed” given the Covid-19 crisis and Brexit. This sentiment was also echoed in the same paper by columnist Stephen Glover who asked why the prime minister was “grand green plan in the midst of a crisis”.

The Daily Mail’s editorial also cited an estimate that cutting the UK’s emissions to net-zero would cost £1tn – a figure first claimed by former chancellor Philip Hammond last year and something the CCC’s chief executive Chris Stark has disputed.

Regarding costs, for the Times Red Box, Shaun Spiers, executive director of thinktank Green Alliance, called on the Treasury to “get with the programme”, noting reports that it had “resisted the prime minister’s plans”. He added: “Over the next couple of months we need to see the policy detail backed by serious spending commitments.” 

In the Independent, economics editor Ben Chu said the spending review next week is “an opportunity for the government to fill in some of the big gaps” in green investment.

For the Guardian, Greenpeace’s Rebecca Newsom said the plan “looks good”, but added: 

“When it comes to the funding, the government both needs to check its priorities and accept that £4bn is only a down payment for what is required for a green recovery.”

In the Independent, Green MP Caroline Lucas compared the “paltry” sum of new money with the £27bn earmarked for roads and the £36bn being invested in a green recovery in Germany. 

In the Daily Telegraph’s business section, columnist Ambrose Evans-Pritchard welcomed the plan as “our path to economic and political revival”. However, various others writing in the same paper took a rather more sceptical tone.

A piece in the daily newspaper by Sunday Telegraph editor Allister Heath said the ideas would “backfire disastrously on Boris”, writing:

“So the only real question, in practice, is how will we go green, and how quickly? Will the authoritarian hair-shirt, command and control, Stone Age tendency triumph? Will cars be banned, people forced to cycle, airports be shut, and the vast majority of the population’s quality of life trashed in a debilitating culture war waged by an army of puritanical, elitist, neo-luddite, collectivist eco-warriors?” 

A Spectator article by James Kirkup ran under the headline: “Boris’s eco-optimism will get the better of him”. It cited polling by his think tank, the Social Market Foundation, which found voters are generally positive about a greener economy “though their level of knowledge about what that means is fairly low”. 

“The big variations in attitude are found in income: unsurprisingly, the more money people have, the more relaxed they are about the costs of net zero,” Kirkup wrote.

For BusinessGreen, Nick Molho of the Aldersgate Group said the green plan “can be a turning point for the net-zero transition”. 

In a letter to the Times, Prof Lorraine Whitmarsh wrote “as ever, there is an assumption that technology alone can get us to net zero – which we know from numerous studies it can’t”. 

The remainder of this Carbon Brief article consists of a sector-by-sector breakdown of what the government has pledged and how the media has responded.

Electric vehicles

Virtually all the coverage of the overarching plan has led on the government bringing forward the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars to 2030, with more than one headline describing it as the “end of the road” for the vehicles. 

As Reuters noted, the new date is five years earlier than the 2035 pledge made by Johnson in February, which was itself a revision of the initial target date of 2040.

The government announced the policy as part of a wider package “to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles and transforming our national infrastructure to better support electric vehicles”.

This included funding consisting of £1.3bn to accelerate the rollout of electric vehicle charging infrastructure and £582m in grants. The i newspaper reported that these grants, “worth thousands of pounds” will encourage people to trade in their cars for cleaner models.

The final component in the plans was “nearly £500m to be spent in the next four years” as part of a wider scheme to develop the UK’s first battery gigafactory.

While the 2035 target has been widely viewed as a significant policy shift, it is in line with the CCC’s guidance, which said such a ban should be brought in by 2032 at the latest. 

However, there was no accompanying mandate for carmakers to sell zero-emission vehicles, as proposed by the CCC. 

Simon Jack, BBC News’s business editor, said the ban “puts the UK toward the front of the pack in the electric vehicle race”, while the Independent’s climate correspondent Daisy Dunne pointed out that the only country with a more ambitious target is Norway, which has set 2025 as its phaseout date.

In its coverage, the Times also noted that, besides the headline ban, new hybrid vehicles will be “outlawed” five years later in 2035. In the announcement, the government specified it will allow vehicles that can drive “a significant distance with no carbon coming out of the tailpipe” until this date. 

However, the Guardian said a new report from the transport thinktank New Automotive estimates that “the government would need to set a sales ban of 2026 for internal combustion engine vehicles or introduce extra measures to reduce car use if it hopes to meet its own 2030 carbon budget”.

Electric vehicle charging point in York.
Electric vehicle charging point in York. Credit: Gary Calton / Alamy Stock Photo.

The announcement was preceded by days of media coverage anticipating the proposal, including a lot of criticism.

The Times published a frontpage story earlier in the week stating that “[chancellor] Rishi Sunak is considering plans to charge motorists for using Britain’s roads amid concerns over a £40bn tax shortfall created by the switch to electric cars”.

While the newspaper published a supportive editorial to accompany the story, stating that “charging road use is sound, market-based economics”, much of the right-leaning press opposed the idea. An editorial in the Sun said this was a “fuellish idea”, stating:

“It would be insane to slap a brand new tax on drivers. We get that the government will have a £40bn fuel duty shortfall if everyone eventually buys an electric vehicle. A ‘pay as you drive’ scheme may even be a fairer alternative if tracking technology can be made to work nationwide and allows for, say, traffic conditions and the time of day. But it cannot be added to what are already Europe’s highest taxes on motorists. Not without a revolt.”

In the Daily Mail, columnist Ross Clark said the imminent announcement of a ban on petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030 was “premature and potentially very damaging to the economy”, and an editorial in the same paper said the prime minister “risks a wrong turn” with the earlier ban. 

A Daily Telegraph article published before the announcement had details of a survey that found 70% of new Tory ‘blue wall’ voters in the north feel a ban on diesel and petrol cars “would be unfair, despite sharing overwhelming concern over climate change”. 

This kind of coverage continued after the announcement had come out on Tuesday. The Daily Telegraph published a piece by the climate contrarian Bjorn Lomborg criticising the ban.

He said the policy would deliver “only minor emissions savings at a vast cost to the taxpayer” and that electric vehicles “are certainly fun, but almost everywhere cost more across their lifetime than their petrol counterparts. That is why subsidies are needed.” 

By contrast, the CCC has said that such a phaseout would ultimately save consumers money and that an earlier ban would mean even bigger savings, as the chart below indicates.

Finally, an editorial in the Daily Express (not yet online) was broadly supportive of the proposed “green industrial revolution” and encouraged “our motor-loving PM [to] put his foot to the floor in pursuit of his electric ambitions”.

Media reaction continued after the initial announcement, with a continued focus on the proposed ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030. The Daily Telegraph said that Johnson’s “electric dream will be a costly journey” and “will require a massive reshaping of the UK automotive industry”. The paper spoke to experts about the implications for British car manufacturers and the additional impact of Brexit.

Taking a stronger tone, the MailOnline described the ban as “authoritarian, elitist, anti-motorist…and eye-wateringly expensive”. (The Climate Change Committee has said a 2030 ban will save the UK even more money than a later phaseout.) The paper quotes Nigel Humphries of lobby group, the Alliance of British Drivers, who described the ban as having “something Stalinist about it”. And Prof Peter Wells, director of the Centre for Automotive Industry Research at Cardiff University, told the outlet that “the chief bottleneck so far is on battery supply. That is being solved across Europe but we’re a bit behind the pace here in the UK”.

Wells also told the New York Times that “without additional government help, without additional companies coming in, the UK automotive industry is going to struggle to survive the transition to electric vehicles”. The paper noted that “Britain’s departure from the European Union has already caused investment in the auto industry to plummet”.

Madeleine Cuff, environment reporter for the i newspaper, agreed that the move “presents an enormous challenge for the car industry”. She noted that the shift to electric vehicles “depends on millions more charge points and longer driving range”.

Finally, both the Times and the Daily Telegraph reported that MPs, industry bodies and green groups have urged the government to provide additional help to drivers to support the transition to EVs. And the BBC News published a Q&A piece on how electric cars are charged and how far they can go.

Nuclear power

In the lead up to the plan, expectations were running high for a major announcement on nuclear power, after weeks of stories about a “green light” for the Sizewell C plant and Rolls-Royce planning to build up to 16 mini-nuclear plants.

In an article published at the start of November, the i newspaper said “Johnson…is expected to commit to building a new nuclear power station at Sizewell in Suffolk”.

The Daily Mail’s Ruth Sunderland said new nuclear will “have to be” part of the UK’s energy mix and suggested that Johnson was posed to give approval to the new Sizewell facility, despite opposition “by protesters who say it threatens ecology and wildlife”.

The reality was less specific. The plan included a fund of £525m “to help develop large and smaller-scale nuclear plants, and research and develop new advanced modular reactors”, but did not mention a specific project.

A government consultation last year concluded that the UK “will…require” new nuclear power to meet its net-zero emissions target.

Writing for BusinessGreen ahead of the plan’s launch, E3G’s Tom Burke said that “recent weeks have seen a hugely expensive battle in the headlines between EDF and Rolls Royce as to whether the government will fund another big nuclear reactor at Sizewell or a lot of small modular reactors elsewhere”. He continued:

“It will not take [private investors] very long to work out that becoming the ‘Saudi Arabia of wind’ is not compatible with building both Sizewell and small modular reactors and possibly other big nuclear generators. They will recall the prime minister’s affection for white elephants.”

An analysis by environment correspondent Fiona Harvey in the Guardian noted that with proposals for new nuclear in the UK from Sizewell to Wylfa wavering “if the government wishes to expand nuclear power, it will have to prove that it can be economical”. 

Sizewell B nuclear power plant with several electricity pylons in front seen through a distorting heat haze.
Sizewell B nuclear power plant with several electricity pylons in front seen through a distorting heat haze. Credit: Mike P Shepherd / Alamy Stock Photo.

Hydrogen

The government’s plan includes “up to £500m” of which £240m will go towards scaling up production capacity of hydrogen to 5GW by 2030.

Some of the money will go towards trialling homes using hydrogen for heating and cooking, “starting with a hydrogen neighbourhood in 2023, moving to a hydrogen village by 2025, with an aim for a hydrogen town – equivalent to tens of thousands of homes – before the end of the decade”. 

Ben Webster and Emily Gosden (environment and energy editors, respectively)  wrote in the Times that the hydrogen plans “appear to be among the most radical” as renewable hydrogen is still in its infancy and the use of pure hydrogen for cooking and heating has only seen small trials to date.

The Guardian quoted Rebecca Newsom, Greenpeace UK’s head of politics, who said, along with nuclear, “hydrogen from fossil fuels” was one of the “speculative solutions” that the prime minister “remains fixated on”.

A letter in the Times from Prof Jim Watson cautioned against the ambition to heat an entire town with hydrogen by 2030, saying such a commitment should await the outcome of smaller trials.

The plan does not specify whether the hydrogen in question will be produced from fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage – so-called “blue hydrogen” – or if it is “green hydrogen” made using renewable power.

Despite its “radical” status, there had been positive coverage in the run-up to the announcement about hydrogen’s potential.

Ahead of the plan, the Daily Telegraph reported that hydrogen “could be heating homes in three years” following the government’s announcement, quoting industry figures lobbying for “hydrogen-ready” boilers. (The UK already has some homes being heated with 20% hydrogen blends in a trial project.) 

An editorial in the same paper suggested hydrogen might make more sense than the electric car rollout the government has proposed: 

“In any case, who is to say the non-carbon future for cars is, or should be, electric? Hydrogen-based technology would be more environmentally friendly and can use the existing petrol-delivery systems.”

(It is worth noting that many car manufacturers are turning their backs on hydrogen owing to high costs and the relative success of electric vehicles.)

While BusinessGreen noted that the government’s announcement was welcomed by industry, “critics noted the £500m programme pales in comparison with the €7bn hydrogen strategy unveiled by the German government earlier this year”.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS)

A BBC News article that emerged just ahead of the announcement of the 10-point plan said it would feature “substantial investment” for carbon capture and storage (CCS).

The plan commits to making the UK “a world-leader in technology to capture and store harmful emissions away from the atmosphere”, with a target of removing 10 megatonnes of CO2 (MtCO2) by 2030.

The announcement is not entirely clear whether this means 10MtCO2 per year or cumulatively in the years leading up to 2030, although the Carbon Capture and Storage Association has confirmed it sees the target as the former.

At the last general election, the Conservatives pledged to spend £800m “to build the first fully deployed carbon capture storage cluster by the mid-2020s”.

The new investment consists of an extra £200m on top of this to create two carbon capture clusters by the mid-2020s, with another two set to be created by 2030

This brings the total up to £1bn, a figure originally proposed by the government in a spending review back in 2010.

The Guardian reported that “over the last two decades, successive governments have made several attempts to kickstart the industry, but government funding was finally pulled by the then chancellor George Osborne under austerity”.

BusinessGreen picked up on this point, noting that the coalition government had made the funding announcement “only to pull the plug on that competition”.

Nevertheless, the specialist news website said the industry had “immediately welcomed” the news – and EurActiv reported that the scheme “will support 50,000 jobs in the UK’s industrial clusters”.

The CCC has made it clear that CCS technology “is a necessity, not an option” for the UK to reach its net-zero target and said it sees 75-150MtCO2 being removed each year in 2050.

In an article for BBC News, energy and environment analyst Roger Harrabin wrote that despite the list of policies put forward by Johnson, “other policies are leaving emissions untouched, or even driving them up”.

Among the industries he listed was the UK’s oil and gas sector, with the article quoting Prof Myles Allen from the University of Oxford who said fossil fuel firms should pay to dispose of the resulting CO2 emissions “by the technique of CCS”.

BBC News subsequently reported on new analysis commissioned by the power station Drax estimating that plans to create four carbon capture and storage clusters in the Humber region “may create 49,000 jobs”.

A letter in the Times from the scientists Prof Myles Allen and Prof Stuart Hazeldine said the new plan fails to set out who will pay for carbon capture and storage “in the long term”.

Homes and public buildings

In her analysis of the plan, the i newspaper’s Madeline Cuff highlighted the new £1bn in funding for energy efficiency in buildings and the extra year for the existing Green Homes Grant scheme, but added:

“There are growing concerns that the chancellor’s flagship scheme is stumbling in the face of onerous paperwork and a shortage of accredited suppliers. Ministers will need to fix those teething problems quickly to prevent the Green Homes Grant becoming a £3bn policy dud.”

The Guardian reported over the weekend that “according to government data, only 1,174 installers have signed up to the scheme, which started on 30 September, while more than 36,000 householders have applied for the grants, which will be available until March”. 

On top of this scheme, the government set out a plan to install 600,000 heat pumps every year by 2028. This would mark a considerable increase from the current rate of installation, which is pointed out in an analysis piece in the Times:

“Aiming to install 600,000 heat pumps a year by 2028 is also bold – only 30,000 were fitted last year…As with other pledges, the government has not yet set out the detail of how it will achieve this target.”

The Times noted that the pumps can replace gas boilers, but are expensive, and “poor-quality installations have undermined consumer confidence”.

The CCC has advised 1.5m heat pumps should be installed by “the early 2030s”, meaning ahead of 2035, in order to stay on track for net-zero.

BBC News analysis emphasised the significance of this task, noting that “it’s hard to exaggerate the scale and cost of the task involved in replacing 25 million gas boilers”.

Domestic energy efficiency continued to receive attention after the initial wave of media reaction. Both the Times and the Daily Telegraph used some of their coverage of the plan to pick out one detail: a proposal to bring forward a new “future homes standard” from 2025 to 2023, which was removed from an early draft of the document. 

The standard is expected to ban gas boilers from being installed in new homes, the Times said, adding “a government source later confirmed that the ban was being brought forward”. [The future homes standard is subject to an ongoing government consultation.] 

The Daily Telegraph said that the government was “hoping to avoid having to force people to rip out their existing heating systems, envisaging a gradual transition as people replace their boilers over the next 15 years”.  

Elsewhere, Bloomberg reported on the 10-point plan extending the “green homes grant” with an extra £1bn and another year. The outlet also noted that so far only 267 grants have been handed out “as government officials struggle to work through tens of thousands of applications piling up”. And BusinessGreen said the extension has been welcomed by industry and campaigners.

Offshore wind

The 10-point plan includes a target to quadruple offshore wind power by 2030, to 40GW, reported the Guardian, which would be “enough to power every UK home”. In the press release accompanying the plan, Boris Johnson says that “our green industrial revolution will be powered by the wind turbines of Scotland and the north-east”.

This is a “previously announced pledge”, the Guardian noted, referring to Boris Johnson’s speech to the Conservative Party conference in October and the party’s manifesto at the 2019 general election. In Johnson’s conference speech, he said:

“I can today announce that the UK government has decided to become the world leader in low-cost clean power generation – cheaper than coal and gas – and we believe that in 10 years’ time offshore wind will be powering every home in the country, with our target rising from 30GW to 40GW.”

The Press Association, via ITV News, said that “offshore wind looks like an increasingly sound bet” as “costs have fallen dramatically and new technology, such as floating turbines, could make even more of the natural conditions in the seas around the UK”.

The Times said that the “government has said that it will award subsidy contracts next year to support the next wave of offshore wind projects”.

However, wrote the Guardian’s Fiona Harvey, “the electricity needs of the average family are likely to increase markedly as people switch to electric vehicles and heat pumps instead of gas boilers”.

In the Spectator’s lifestyle magazine, Life, columnist Ross Clark noted that, “a few years ago, as mayor of London, Boris Johnson declared that wind turbines ‘couldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding’”. But now, with the “huge shift to renewable energy” in the government’s 10-point plan, Clark says that, ”no rice pudding, it seems, will be safe from being gouged by a nearby wind farm”.

In the Times, Ben Webster and Emily Gosden wrote that “there was notably no mention of onshore wind or solar, two of the cheapest ways to generate green electricity and likely to be needed to hit net-zero targets”. They add: 

“In March, the government consulted on plans to resume offering subsidy contracts to these technologies from next year, ending a block on subsidies imposed by David Cameron from 2016 – but there is still no confirmation that this will happen.”

Similarly, the Independent’s Daisy Dunne noted that “key details remain unclear” in the plan, with “noticeable gaps” including new measures to boost onshore wind or solar. 

And rounding up reaction from industry figures, Edie noted that, while the response to the plan is “largely supportive”, there is a “lack of support for established renewable technologies such as onshore wind and solar”.

Public transport, cycling and walking

In the plan, the government pledges to “incentivise cycling and walking, while also investing in zero-emission public transport”, reported Edie. [The article has also been reposted by EurActiv.] This includes an expectation that “up to £5bn” will be funnelled into alternative cycling, walking and low-carbon buses.

BusinessGreen noted that the government announced a “£5bn boost to the UK’s green transport infrastructure” back in February, which included a promise to “overhaul bus and cycle routes outside of London” as part of plans to “level up” the UK’s regional economies. The outlet added: 

“However, the pace of change will depend a lot on the Department for Transport and local authorities, many of which are facing a vocal media backlash over even modest measures to boost cycling.”

The Guardian agreed that, although the plan contains “moves to promote” public transport, cycling and walking, “no new schemes were announced”.

The Press Association said that it is “widely recognised the UK cannot just switch out all its cars for greener models, as there are issues including non-tailpipe emissions and the resources needed for batteries”. It added:

“Clean public transport options include hydrogen buses, while the government has given funding to boosting walking and cycling – which also benefits health – though there is a fierce fight over road and pavement space.”

The Guardian’s Fiona Harvey said that “Covid-19 has also led to people forsaking public transport and many will be difficult to entice back – though if the shift to home-working becomes permanent, this may be less of a problem”. She added:

“Making streets more accessible to cyclists and pedestrians will inevitably mean discouraging private car use in most of our towns and cities, and that will require muscular intervention by central and local government to face down the motoring lobby. The question is whether this government will have the courage needed to follow through on this commitment.”

The Times said that “thousands of miles of new cycle lanes will be built under a government plan to double the number of journeys made by bike”. The plan, which will designate more “low-traffic neighbourhoods”, will use a £2bn cycling fund announced this year, the paper explained.

Aviation and shipping

As well as local transport, the 10-point plan covers aviation and shipping. These are “hard-to-decarbonise” industries, noted Climate Home News, because of a lack of readily available alternative fuels.

The plan pledges support for research projects for “zero-emission planes and ships” in order to “support airlines, airports and shipping firms”, said Edie. The outlet adds that “£20m has been set aside for clean maritime innovations at sites including Orkney and Teesside”.

On shipping emissions, Fiona Harvey in the Guardian wrote that “hydrogen fuel, in the form of ammonia, offers hope for shipping – but that prospect is still years off”. And commenting on the new fuel efficiency measures agreed at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) meeting this week, she warned that “the shipping industry has shown little sign of wanting to reform itself in the meantime, despite its many opportunities for reducing emissions”.

On aviation, the Independent’s Daisy Dunne noted that “the plan also makes mentions of technologies that are yet to be proven at a commercial level”. Dunne pointed out that Boris Johnson has previously faced criticism for making “unrealistic” claims about electric air travel.

On the same point, the Times said that “earlier this year Mr Johnson said that he wanted the UK to build the first zero-emission long-haul plane. He convened the Jet Zero Council with representatives from the aviation industry and experts to discuss how it could be done”.  However, the paper added:

“While short-range electric flight for the smallest planes is already a reality, there are concerns about its viability for short-haul and long-haul passenger flights. Industry has focused on hybrid-electric models, with jet fuel needed for take-off.”

Nature

Earlier this week, the government published details of a series of measures that would be part of both the 10-point plan and the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan. These would include “national parks and greater protections for England’s iconic landscapes”, the press release said.

BBC News environment analyst Roger Harrabin reported that the plan includes “a further £40m…to be ploughed into green spaces in England as part of a plan to restore species and combat climate change”. He added:

“The natural environment funding will go to environmental charities creating or restoring important habitats like peatland and wetland; preventing or cleaning up pollution; creating woodland; and helping people connect with nature.”

This is intended to “create and retain skilled and unskilled jobs, such as ecologists, project managers, tree planters and teams to carry out nature restoration”, Harrabin noted.

In the government announcement, environment secretary George Eustice said that larger areas of landscape would be protected as national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs) and through new “landscape recovery projects”.

Man planting young trees in Yorkshire.
Man planting young trees in Yorkshire. Credit: Cultura Creative RF / Alamy Stock Photo.

These projects “will be established over the next four years through the government’s environmental land management scheme, which will be centred around support aimed at incentivising sustainable farming practices, creating habitats for nature recovery and supporting the establishment of new woodland and other ecosystem services to help tackle challenges like climate change”, the government said.

BusinessGreen noted that “the real boost to efforts to enhance nature is likely to come next year as the government starts to enact its farming subsidy reforms and begins paying landowners for delivering environmental benefits”.

Reporting on the 10-point plan, Edie said that “commitments have been agreed to plant 30,000 hectares of trees every year to restore the natural environment” and “£5.2bn has been ringfenced to create new flood and coastal defences in England by 2027”.

New Scientist described the former as a “retread of the UK Conservative party’s tree-planting pledge” ahead of the 2019 general election.

The Times noted that the government “has struggled to make significant inroads” towards their manifesto pledge. It added that the Bennett Institute for Public Policy at Cambridge University has suggested that the government establish a “national conservation corps” to help meet the 30,000 target.

The Press Association said that, despite the joint issues of climate change and declining biodiversity, the “good news is both can be solved at the same time, with measures such as funding for planting trees or letting them regenerate naturally, or restoring peatland to store carbon, protect habitat and curb flooding”. It added:

“The government has promised an extra £40m for the green recovery challenge fund, for charities restoring nature across the UK, and has a long-standing tree-planting pledge – but is behind on those efforts.”

Craig Bennett from the Wildlife Trusts told BBC News that “of course this is welcome, but it’s a tiny amount compared with what’s needed. A previous promise of £40m was oversubscribed seven times over”.

Speaking to the Independent, Green Party peer and former leader Natalie Bennett cautioned that, while the government “talks a good game on nature-based solutions”, its 10-point plan “lacks nature and also people”. She added:

“If we look at an overview of this plan, what it looks like is a big shiny metal lump of technology, with a little clump of trees planted alongside.”

Meanwhile, the i newspaper reported that “the public would prefer the government to plant millions of trees to suck carbon out of the atmosphere rather than plough huge sums of cash into carbon capture and storage technology, in a blow to the prime minister’s plans to kickstart a green industrial revolution”.

Innovation and finance

Finally, the last of the 10 points is a pledge to “make the City of London the global centre of green finance”, reported Edie. This has been “heralded as a ‘bold step’ by green groups, with many claiming that the outlined steps will put the UK on to the net-zero trajectory”, the outlet added.

BusinessGreen reported that “the move follows the Treasury’s confirmation all firms will face mandatory climate risk reporting rules from 2025”. The outlet added that, in his Financial Times piece, Boris Johnson “hinted that further action on carbon pricing was in the pipeline”.

Fiona Harvey in the Guardian wrote that the “main question is whether the government will put forward public funding” for innovation. There have been proposals for a publicly funded green infrastructure bank, Harvey said, but that would “require long-term commitment”. She explained:

“The original Green Investment Bank, set up with public money under the coalition government, was quickly abandoned a few years later, and produced little tangible return”.

The Times noted that “earlier this month Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, announced plans to launch green gilts for investment in green infrastructure projects, while also requiring companies to disclose their emissions. However, big investors are urging the government to go further”.

Harvey also reported that the original 10-point plan contained a guarantee that the UK would halt government funding for fossil fuels overseas. However, “that commitment appears to have been dropped”, she said, “though it may resurface if internal government rows are resolved”.

More generally on finance, Ben Webster and Emily Gosden in the Times noted that some of the wording around government funding to support the pledges is “vague”. They said:

“Mr Johnson refers to ‘mobilising’ £12bn of government investment and it is unclear what that means. Far greater sums are likely to be needed to ensure that carbon targets for the next decade are met.”

Speaking to the Guardian, shadow business secretary Ed Miliband made a similar point:

“This announcement doesn’t remotely meet the scale of the jobs emergency or the climate emergency. France and Germany are investing tens of billions of euros. This provides, at best, £4bn of new money over several years.

“What we needed was a really bold green economic stimulus, and what we got was a pale imitation of that. It’s deeply, deeply disappointing.”

And Green party MP Caroline Lucas also criticised the plan as vague and underpowered in the same paper, describing it as “a shopping list” that “commits only a fraction of the necessary resources”.

Lastly, on innovation, the Press Association noted that “experts will always warn there is no technology silver bullet, but there is a need to develop innovative solutions, from alternatives to jet fuel to schemes that can take excess carbon out of the air”. 

Sharelines from this story
  • Media reaction: Boris Johnson's ‘10-point’ net-zero plan for climate change
  • How the media reacted to Boris Johnson's ‘10-point’ net-zero plan for climate change

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