Boris Johnson Announces Plans for a Green Industrial Revolution

The 10 point climate plan includes banning fossil fuel-powered cars by 2030

Flying over Scottish Wind Farm
Flying over Scottish Wind Farm.

Lloyd Alter

Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, has announced what he calls The Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution as part of an investment plan to Build Back Better after the coronavirus pandemic. This is important because, well, it's a plan that can be discussed and criticized and improved, rather than the vague platitudes from Canada or the outright denial from the current American administration. We reached out to the Twitter community in the UK for their thoughts and opinions and Ben Adam-Smith (known to Treehugger for his wonderful house) felt the same, that it was a start:

Ben adam smith twitter

Twitter screen capture

Others are less impressed, noting that it is heavy on unproven technologies and electric cars. Architect Juraj Mikurcik (also known to Treehugger for his wonderful house) summarized it in a meme:

Boris Johnson himself is almost as funny in his introduction to the plan, with his vision of how people will live in Britain in a few years:

"Imagine how our Green Industrial Revolution could transform life across our United Kingdom. You cook your breakfast using hydrogen power before getting in your electric car, having charged it overnight from batteries made in the Midlands. Around you the air is cleaner, and the trucks and trains, ships and planes are running on hydrogen or a synthetic fuel."

Point 1: Lots of Wind Power

Earth Notes

Twitter

The Midland batteries will be charged with wind power covered in Point 1: "By 2030, we aim to produce 40GW of offshore wind, including 1GW of innovative floating offshore wind in the windiest parts of our seas." That's fine, there's lots of wind in the UK, though mostly in Scotland, which might be a separate country by then.

Point 2: Hydrogen!

Hydrogen

Twitter

The problems begin with Point 2: "Driving the growth of low carbon hydrogen." They love hydrogen in the UK, even the Committee on Climate Change pushes it. According to the plan:

"Hydrogen is the lightest, simplest and most abundant chemical element in the universe. It could provide a clean source of fuel and heat for our homes, transport and industry. The UK already has world-leading electrolyser companies, and unparalleled carbon capture and storage sites that we can maximise. Working with industry the UK is aiming for 5GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030."

The problem is that making your breakfast with electrolyzed "green" hydrogen is a really inefficient use of electricity, perhaps 30% as efficient as cooking it on an induction range. Or maybe it's blue hydrogen, where it is made from natural gas and the CO2 is sequestered somewhere, which nobody has quite figured out where to put it all yet. And it's probably a blend with natural gas anyway, or they have to replace every gas appliance in the country, so it isn't really solving the problem of getting off fossil fuels. More on hydrogen in the UK here.

Point 3: Delivering New and Advanced Nuclear Power

"Nuclear power provides a reliable source of low-carbon electricity. We are pursuing large-scale nuclear, whilst also looking to the future of nuclear power in the UK through further investment in Small Modular Reactors and Advanced Modular Reactors."

All over the world, people are on the Small Modular Reactor (SMR) bandwagon. We haven't actually seen one yet, but they are closer than the Advanced Modular Reactors, which are still fantasies.

Point 4: Accelerating the Shift to Zero Emission Vehicles

Anyone who follows all the fights about low traffic neighborhoods or highway congestion in the UK has to wonder about why this isn't more aggressive. Engineer and teacher Kevin Anderson writes:

"Rather than embracing the opportunity to rethink and restructure our transport system, our imagination appears to be limited to swapping one resource-intensive traffic jam (petrol/ diesel cars) for another (electric cars). Is this the extent of our imagination, foresight and technological prowess?"

There is also no mention of the upfront carbon emissions of making all those cars, 30% more than you get from ICE powered cars, and at between 15 and 50 tonnes per vehicle, enough to bust the carbon budget all on their own.

Point 5: Green Public Transport, Cycling, and Walking

To be fair, the plan does include investing in public transport, electric buses and more trains.

"We will build first hundreds, then thousands, of miles of segregated cycle lane and create more low-traffic neighbourhoods to stop rat-running and allow people to walk and cycle. We will expand school streets, which have caused dramatic falls in traffic and pollution around schools. We have already started this transformation with £250 million spending this year as part of the PM’s announcement that we will spend £2 billion over this Parliament. A new body, Active Travel England, will hold the budget, inspect schemes, and assess local authorities for their performance on active travel. We will also launch a national programme of support to increase uptake of electric bikes."

Point 6: Jet Zero and Green Ships

"By taking immediate steps to drive the uptake of sustainable aviation fuels, investments in R&D to develop zero-emission aircraft and developing the infrastructure of the future at our airports and seaports – we will make the UK the home of green ships and planes. Internationally, we will continue to lead efforts to find solutions to global aviation and maritime emissions"

Really, the UK is a relatively small island connected to a great train network, and there is not a peep about getting people off the Ryanair or Easyjet habit and on to trains. The solution to global aviation emissions is to not fly.

Point 7: Greener Buildings

Es Tessider comment

Twitter screen shot

"To future-proof new buildings and avoid the need for costly retrofit, we will seek to implement the Future Home Standard in the shortest possible timeline, and consult shortly on increased standards for non-domestic buildings so that new buildings have high levels of energy efficiency and low carbon heating. As is the common theme across this plan, we want to stimulate investment and manufacturing in the UK. We will aim for 600,000 heat pump installations per year by 2028, creating a market led incentive framework to drive growth, and will bring forward regulations to support this especially in off gas grid properties."

We will come back to this one in a separate post, but fundamentally it ignores the need for those retrofits by the tens of thousands. Heat pumps sized to the heating loads of leaky houses still take a lot of electricity. As we keep harping on Treehugger, you have to reduce demand first. Why not just demand radical building efficiency and make everything Passivhaus standard minimum from tomorrow on? Then you can buy a lot fewer or smaller heat pumps.

Point 8: Investing in Carbon Capture, Usage, and Storage

"Carbon Capture, Usage & Storage (CCUS) will be an exciting new industry to capture the carbon we continue to emit and revitalise the birthplaces of the first Industrial Revolution. Our ambition is to capture 10Mt of carbon dioxide a year by 2030, the equivalent of four million cars’ worth of annual emissions."

Um, really, why not just stop emitting so much CO2 in the first place instead of trying to catch it and bury it? it is also really expensive and there are no proven technologies.

Point 9: Protecting Our Natural Environment and Point 10: Green Finance and Innovation

Keith Alexander

Twitter Screen Capture

Both nice. So stop financing more runways and car tunnels under the Thames and Stonehenge. Finance projects that don't kill our natural and heritage environments.

The problem with these ten points is that most of them are really all about maintaining the status quo, that we can keep living the way we do, just with hydrogen instead of gas and with electric cars instead of better houses, fewer cars. But as Ben Adam-Smith noted, it's a start, and it is a lot more than we have seen from other countries.