By Josh Barnes
Less than two weeks before Boris Johnson announced that he would step down as Prime Minister, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) published a report that now represents his climate legacy.
The CCC are the government’s independent advisors on climate policy and each year they publish a progress report. The conclusions of the most recent edition echo what much of the climate movement has been saying of the Johnson government for a long time. It has been good at setting ambitious goals but has too often failed to set out a coherent plan for delivering them.
There were some areas where the CCC were impressed with the government’s progress. Electric vehicle sales have risen faster than anticipated over the last two years, although there is more work to be done to develop sufficient charging infrastructure for them. Good initial progress has been made towards decarbonising the national grid, largely due to an impressive rollout of offshore wind power.
It is no coincidence that both of these areas were the subject of high-profile targets announced by Boris Johnson (the phase out of new petrol and diesel car sales by 2030 and a net-zero electricity grid by 2035). These commitments have given businesses the confidence to invest in new technologies and set up new supply chains. They have also incentivised government departments to take action. Perhaps most importantly, these targets and others gave the government a level of credibility at the COP26 climate conference that helped to encourage other countries to make more ambitious pledges.
But targets alone are not enough. The CCC’s report largely repeats the same story across each sector. Positive rhetoric, plans and targets have not been backed up by concrete action and investment. As a result, the UK is behind on where it needs to be in most policy areas.
So Johnson leaves with a mixed record on climate. The next government will inherit an electricity grid that has decarbonised rapidly over the last decade and has all but removed coal (the dirtiest fossil fuel) from its energy mix. Continued progress in this area would give the UK a solid foundation for reducing emissions across a range of sectors.
However, the new Prime Minister will also face the difficult challenge of delivering coherent policy packages to meet their predecessor's ambitious goals. It is possible that they will consider watering down or ditching these targets completely in favour of other policy priorities. This would be a mistake. While targets are not sufficient to get us to net-zero by themselves, they remain a vital tool for driving climate action at home and abroad.
If you want to see a new government that takes climate action forward in the UK, it’s important to make your voice heard. Get in touch with us today to find out how you can use your influence to secure ambitious climate action.