Boris Johnson’s 10-Point Green Plan: What Does It Mean For The Future?

The Eco Experts
a power plant in the UK

The government aims to cut 16 million tonnes of CO2e per year this decade

£2.3 billion is to be spent on the electric vehicle industry

The plan targets the creation of 250,000 jobs


Boris Johnson’s government has launched a bold £12 billion initiative to create a greener economy while recovering from the downturn prompted by COVID-19.

The Prime Minister’s 10-point plan for a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’ – strangely enough, the exact phrase used by the Labour Party’s 2019 manifesto – promises to “create and support up to 250,000 British jobs” through investment in green energy, technology, and nature.

These actions will be crucial in meeting the government’s new carbon emissions target, which constitutes a 68% reduction from 1990 levels, by 2030.

This is significantly more ambitious than the previous target of 57% – to the tune of 89 million tonnes of CO2e* – and will help the Paris Agreement’s signatories to limit the global temperature increase this century to 1.5°C (assuming the UK meets its new goal).

We’ve looked through what the 10-point plan is, whether it goes far enough, how feasible it is, and what the various consequences will be for all of us if it comes to fruition.

 

*carbon dioxide equivalent, a measurement that converts all greenhouse emissions into CO2 terms

offshore wind turbines seen from the English coast

Overview

So what is actually included in the 10-point plan?

The plan can be split into five parts: energy, transport, buildings, emissions removal, and innovation and finance. Let’s go through them one by one.

Energy

The government wants to produce enough offshore wind to power every home’s electricity by 2030, quadrupling how much the UK currently produces to 40GW. The aim is for this increase to support “up to 60,000 jobs.”

The hydrogen industry will receive £500 million of investment, with the aim of generating 5GW of low-carbon energy by 2030, along with 8,000 jobs.

Part of this plan is to entirely power a so-called ‘Hydrogen Neighbourhood’ by 2023, a ‘Hydrogen Village’ by 2025, and a ‘Hydrogen Town’ before the end of the decade.

This publicity stunt ignores the fact that hydrogen production currently releases more carbon emissions than natural gas. It’s not yet low-carbon, and a great deal of work will need to go into making it so – especially by 2023.

And so we come to the third arm of the government’s energy plan. Is it solar power? Onshore wind? Hydropower? No. It’s nuclear energy.

The aim is to build new nuclear plants that produce a cleaner form of energy, creating 10,000 jobs in the process.

We’re not sure why the government is opting to invest in nuclear power when the still-not-built £22.9 billion Hinkley Point plant has been such a costly pain to construct, for an expensive source of energy that isn’t carbon-free and produces radioactive waste.

Transport

The government has promised around £2.3 billion of investment in the electric vehicle industry – and a law change, too.

You won’t be able to buy a new petrol or diesel car or van by 2030, while new high-quality hybrid car and van sales will be stopped in 2035.

£1.3 billion of government funding will go to building public and private charging points, adding to the 17,947 chargers which already help the UK’s 758,200 electric vehicles get around.

Another £582 million will fund grants for those buying zero or ultra-low emission vehicles, to ensure the initial cost is reduced, while nearly £500 million is to be spent by 2024 on developing and producing electric vehicle batteries on a mass scale.

£20 million will go towards trialling zero-emission heavy goods vehicles, with the entire effort producing “around 40,000 new jobs” by 2030.

When it comes to the most eco-friendly ways of travelling – by foot or bicycle – the government hasn’t added anything to its previous commitment in July 2020 of a £2 billion, four-year investment.

The aims outlined then were to double cycling levels by 2025 – compared to 2016 levels – and to make sure that half of all journeys in towns and cities are cycled or walked by 2030.

The government also raises the importance of “investing in zero-emission public transport” in its 10-point plan, and has already spent tens of millions in this area. Despite this, as stated in its Road to Zero report, just 6.2% of all UK buses are low-emission vehicles.

Funding will also be made available to research and develop zero-emission planes and ships, including £20 million for a competition to create clean maritime technology.

Buildings

£1 billion is set to be spent on various schemes over the course of 2021.

Homeowners will benefit from a 12-month extension of the Green Homes Grant, which allows them to save £5,000 each on energy-saving home improvements.

The government will also continue using the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme to ensure schools and hospitals are more energy-efficient and use greener energy.

A separate but related goal is to install 600,000 heat pumps per year by 2028. For context, 239,000 heat pumps had been installed in the UK as of 2019.

Emissions removal

As well as reducing future emissions, the government is also aiming to prevent the CO2e that is currently being released from reaching the atmosphere.

The aim is to spend £200 million on building four carbon capture clusters, which will remove 10 million tonnes of CO2 per year by 2030 – 5.7% of the total needed to meet the new 68% target.

This project will support 50,000 jobs, according to the plan.

After promising ahead of the 2019 election to plant 30 million trees per year by 2025, the government has also increased its pledge to 30,000 hectaresroughly 50 million trees every year. The government has said this too will create “thousands of jobs”.

The latest forestry statistics indicate that from April 2019 to March 2020 – which includes the first three and a half months of this government – 13,460 hectares were planted. 

Damningly, more than 80% of these trees were planted in Scotland – where planting is overseen by the Scottish government, not Downing Street.

The UK government also failed to plant even 30% of the 5,000 hectares it said it would in 2018 – and that’s one-sixth of the new target.

Innovation and finance

The target is to raise total investment in research and development to 2.4% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2027, up from the current figure of 1.71% – well below the European Union average of 2.12%.

If we take the UK’s 2019 GDP, that means expenditure of at least £52 billion in 2027 alone, to fund the development and creation of new green technologies.

This will “unlock the potential for 300,000 jobs” by 2030, the government has said.

What it means for…

Pollution

Best case scenario: Wipes out 325.8 million tonnes of CO2e

If the government fulfils its promises and everything goes perfectly, 74.9% of 2019-level emissions could be wiped out, resulting in an 86.5% reduction from 1990 levels.

Though energy demand will rise, annual production of renewable energy will hopefully increase to meet this new level.

We’ll produce 40GW of offshore wind per year, 5GW of a new, greener form of hydrogen energy, and the UK’s current 9GW nuclear output will both be increased – let’s say doubled – and cleaned up.

The country’s coal plants are already set to close by 2025, taking their pollutants with them.

All together, this has the potential to save a large proportion of the 90.1 million tonnes of CO2e the UK currently emits per year, which would slow climate change and massively reduce pollution levels.

New technologies born from the government’s plan to spend tens of billions on research and development could also have wonderful, unforeseen consequences.

And if the government succeeds in enacting its green transport initiatives, another 119.6 million tonnes of CO2e could be saved every year, from 2030 onwards.

With a £2.3 billion investment in electric vehicles, public campaigns to encourage cycling and walking, and a cultural shift after the COVID-19 pandemic, we could see a quick decline in the popularity of petrol and diesel vehicles this decade.

This momentous reduction in emissions also relies on the government fuelling the creation of zero-emission public transport, planes, and ships.

We can also expect four new carbon clusters to remove 40 million tonnes of CO2e by 2032 – according to the government – and 500 million trees to be planted before 2030.

A tree typically absorbs 48 pounds of CO2 per year, so planting 50 million every year will lead to 59.9 million tonnes of CO2 being saved over the course of the decade.

Then, in 2030 and for the foreseeable future, 10.9 million tonnes of CO2 will be absorbed per year.

And if homes are neutralised in terms of emissions, that would wipe out another 65.2 million tonnes of CO2e per year.

Worst case scenario

Nuclear and hydrogen developments could end up proving too expensive and too bad for the climate for the environment to pursue, most likely in that respective order.

Experts and activists have warned about this outcome, not least Greenpeace UK’s head of politics Rebecca Newsom.

She told The Guardian: “It’s a shame the prime minister remains fixated on other speculative solutions, such as nuclear and hydrogen from fossil fuels, that will not be taking us to zero emissions anytime soon, if ever.”

The government’s plan also relies on the public to enthusiastically embrace energy-saving measures, both in the home and on the road, in the shape of electric vehicles.

The new trees pledge could fall short, the carbon clusters could prove difficult to build or miss their predicted targets for absorbing CO2, and the economic consequences of COVID-19 could reduce the government’s appetite for investing in research.

Jobs

The government has promised “£12 billion of government investment to create and support up to 250,000 highly-skilled green jobs in the UK”.

The target is for the private sector to match this three times over by 2030, potentially generating even more new jobs – but here’s the current breakdown.

This chart includes the 201,000 jobs which the government has given exact figures for in its pledges, not including the vague “thousands” of jobs it’s said the tree-planting plan will create.

We can assume that £2.3 billion of investment in the electric vehicle industry will generate enough jobs to make up the rest of the 250,000 figure – which is around a 0.8% increase on the current workforce.

Transport

This is the most important area to improve, as transport releases more carbon emissions than any other area of British life – 119.6 million tonnes of CO2e, in total.

Transport is responsible for 27.5% of the UK’s emissions, so making it greener is key.

Universally electric vehicles and zero-emissions planes could have a transformative effect on transport and its carbon emissions – though convincing people to abandon their vehicles is also crucial.

Cycling and walking charity Sustrans has said that “evidence shows that even with an end to the sale of the most polluting vehicles in 2030, we will still need a 20% to 60% reduction in traffic by 2030 to meet climate targets.”

Is it feasible?

The 10-point plan

Yes – but only if the right steps are taken quickly, with a genuine commitment to following through that’s reflected in sizeable investments which may outstrip what’s already been promised.

For instance, the government has pledged to spend £160 million to nearly quadruple offshore wind power from 10.4GW to 40GW.

This plan, which is meant to generate enough energy to cover every UK home’s electricity, will cost around £50 billion in total, according to Aurora Energy Research.

So the government will either need to pump billions into wind – an energy sector that it seriously hobbled for four years – or encourage an astounding amount of private investment.

It’s not encouraging that of the £12 billion pledged towards this plan, the government says £8 billion is new spending, while Labour has put that figure at just £4 billion.

It’s also unclear whether the government has properly estimated how much electricity the UK will consume in 2030, which is likely to be much higher than current levels, largely due to the proliferation of electric vehicles.

In 2014, the government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change predicted that energy demand would reach 350 TWh by 2030. That was a slight underestimation. By 2019, the UK’s electricity consumption stood at 352 TWh, according to government data.

And that’s not even mentioning the fact that with electric car sales increasing exponentially, electricity usage could skyrocket between now and the end of the decade.

But if the government takes the right steps to fulfilling these pledges, and follows through no matter who’s in charge or what other economic pressures arise (yes, we’re referring to the Brexit elephant in the room), then these goals are feasible.

The new carbon emissions target

It’s completely feasible to cut carbon emissions by 68% of the 1990 level.

Firstly, the UK has already made excellent progress since then, cutting its emissions level from 809.4 million tonnes of CO2e in 1990 to 435.2 million tonnes in 2019.

That’s a 46.2% reduction, meaning we’re more than two-thirds of the way – 68%, actually – to the new goal.

And in November 2020, research by the World Wide Fund for Nature and London School of Economics recommended a target of “at least 71.5%” – so this lower target should be achievable.

Reaching net-zero carbon emissions in the long run shouldn’t pose too many problems either, as Chris Stark, chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change – the government’s independent advisors – told The Guardian.

“Net zero is relatively low-cost across the economy,” he said, “but that rests on action now. You can’t sit on your hands and imagine it’s just going to get cheaper by magic.”

And this is the main concern: that the government’s will and therefore funding to fulfil this goal will dry up, especially as it’s a long-term target that would need to receive financial support from every government that follows this one, for the next decade.

It doesn’t help that the range of measures needed to reach a 68% reduction in carbon emissions hasn’t been fully costed, resulting in vague statements and unclear pledges.

Cutting emissions also becomes more difficult as you go. The last 21.8% of 1990 emissions that the UK has to get rid of before 2030 is the equivalent of cutting 2019 emissions by 40.48%.

The UK erased 374.2 million tonnes of CO2e from its annual total between 1990 and 2019, reducing its emissions at a rate of 12.9 million tonnes per year.

By 2030, the UK must cut a further 176.2 million tonnes to reach the 68% target. That’s 16 million tonnes per year.

So it’s certainly feasible – but the government will have to put the pedal to the metal and increase the UK’s rate of reducing carbon emissions by 19.4% for the rest of the 2020s.

That’s the only way to get across the finish line in time.

Summary

Whether the government’s intention for its 10-point plan is to cut emissions and produce jobs, or simply to appease those fighting climate change, it should be a positive step towards building a greener, more future-proof economy.

However, the focus on hydrogen and nuclear energy is disappointing from an environmental point of view, and the cost of creating nuclear power in particular may stop the government from reaching its carbon emissions goal.

All we can do is wait and see if the government, businesses, and the people embrace renewable energy and sustainable living in the way we hope. Our future depends on it.

Josh Jackman Senior Writer

Josh has written about eco-friendly home improvements and climate change for the past three years. His work has featured on the front page of the Financial Times; he’s been interviewed by BBC Radio; and he was the resident expert in BT’s smart home tech initiative.

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