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Boris Johnson, Global Investment Summit

Boris Johnson, Global Investment Summit. Photo: Tim Hammond / No 10 Downing Street / Flickr / cropped from original / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, license linked at bottom of article

Johnson’s carbon-reduction plans are grossly inadequate, and his inept diplomacy is on display during a vital moment in the climate crisis, argues John Westmoreland

With two weeks to go until the Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow, there is every reason to suspect that it will make little impact on climate change. Yesterday’s announcement of Conservative plans to reduce the UK’s carbon output and make the UK economy carbon neutral by 2050 has met with little enthusiasm and downright condemnation for offering too little, too late.

Johnson’s two big pledges were an expansion of electric vehicle production and the conversion of domestic gas boilers to heat pumps. He also talked about carbon capture and storage, tree planting, and building local nuclear power plants. But Johnson’s upbeat bluster about leading a just transition fooled no one.

Johnson’s pledges are greenwashed policies for business that ensure a more than just transition for Tory backers. The £1bn support for electric car production is nowhere near as effective as investment in public transport. The defence of commodity markets is clearly the Tories’ first priority.

The £5,000 Johnson has offered to households to convert from gas to heat pumps is unlikely to make a difference either. Poorly insulated households leaking heat into the atmosphere will largely negate any benefits in carbon emission reduction, and the Tories are still outsourcing the responsibility for greenhouse emissions onto the consumer.

Heat-pump technology is still undeveloped. A heat pump can cost between £6,000 and £18,000, and when this is added to the need to insulate homes, the cost exceeds the limits of many household budgets, making Johnson’s pledge meaningless for poorer families.

As Rebecca Newsom of Greenpeace says:

‘Extra cash for tree planting and progress on electric vehicles doesn’t make up for the lack of concrete plans to deliver renewables at scale, extra investment in public transport, or a firm commitment to end new oil and gas licenses.’

Global rhetoric

The wheels are falling off Johnson’s ‘Global Britain’ ambitions too. Johnson sees himself as a world leader who will raise billions for a just transition for the global south. Yet the ‘spotty guest list’ for Cop26 shows the lack of political weight Johnson carries internationally. His arrogance with European leaders and his government’s reductions in global aid are birds that have come home to roost.

Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin and India’s Narendra Modi are still to say that they will attend. China and India are huge greenhouse-gas emitters, and their absence means that there will be no clear global commitment to reducing carbon emissions.

Johnson has even drawn criticism from the Queen, who was caught on camera last week saying: “I still don’t know who is coming. They talk, but they don’t do.” Yet, royal pique is the last of Johnson’s worries.

Joe Biden’s arrival in Glasgow will bring more bad news to the conference table. Biden will almost certainly have to abandon his clean energy programme that included phasing out coal and gas fired power plants, after Senator Joe Manchin, from West Virginia, scuppered his plans in defence of Virginian coal.

A failure at the Cop26 may damage Johnson’s political standing to some degree, but the fiscal holes in the government’s plans for emission reduction only reveal how low climate change ranks in its priorities. If Cop26 turns out to be a fiasco, however, that will be a much greater disaster for people the world over than it will be for this government.

In truth, no government is going to act without mass pressure to force the issue, which is why there will be meetings and protests in Glasgow and elsewhere during the conference. Socialists need to be part of this, to argue for a just transition that can build an equal and sustainable world for everyone.

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John Westmoreland

John Westmoreland

John is a history teacher and UCU rep. He is an active member of the People's Assembly and writes regularly for Counterfire.

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