Leaders from 196 countries are scheduled to meet in Glasgow in November for the 26th United Nations Climate Change conference, known as COP26. Following the defeat of the Madrid Climate Change Conference in 2019 (COP25), all eyes are now focused on COP26. While Britain, the current chair of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in 2021, has claimed that its main mission is to achieve the goal set out in the Paris Climate Agreement to prevent global warming, a series of actions by Boris Johnson’s government show that there is no serious determination to do so.
Actions such as permission given by the British government to mine coal in Cumbria, new North Sea oil and gas explorations, slashing grants for electric car buyers, expansion of Heathrow airport while air travel is considered the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions on an individual scale, and scrapping the Green Homes Grant which “provided households with grants of up to £5,000 or £10,000 to install low-carbon heating and insulation”, prove that Boris Johnson’s promises to combat climate change and carbon emissions are just rhetoric.
On the other hand, based on Budget 2021, the UK government’s policies will increase greenhouse gas emissions contrary to the government’s commitment to net-zero emissions. Isabella O’Dowd, the head of climate at WWF, said:
“The spring budget showed a disconnect between the government’s rhetoric and the reality of what it’s doing. The ambition [on emissions-cutting targets] is great, but now we really need to see the policies that will deliver.”
The government’s plan for coal mining in Cumbria makes a mockery of its claim to reduce carbon emissions by 78% by 2035. Despite the report by the Climate Change Committee (CCC) demanding that the government “move away from using coal in steel production within the next few decades if the country is to meet its legal target of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050”, mining products will be used in steel production. Whilst the UK’s goal to reduce carbon emissions is fully accepted, experts believe that Johnson is failing to implement his announced plans and that Britain must have clear policies on climate change instead of slogans.
The UK government‘s new licences for oil and gas exploration in the North Sea have raised concerns both for environmental activists as well as the UK’s position as leader of the most important UN climate conference. “This is a colossal failure. The UK will make a fool of itself in the run-up to hosting the COP26 global climate talks if our energy minister signs off on new oil and gas licenses that serve to rip up the Paris Agreement”, Mel Evans from Greenpeace said. While Boris Johnson and other members of the government have claimed many times to invest in projects related to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, their plans and actions prove otherwise. It is important to consider that government benefits from those oil and mining projects force it to use rhetoric rather than act.
The government’s goal for decarburisation is another controversial plan which, contrary to the stated goals, has diminished its support for electric cars by reducing their grant from £3,000 to £2,500 and cutting subsidies for cars over £35,000. What do these actions mean as news come in about the car industry lobbying the UK government to delay the ban on petrol and diesel cars? CBI Chief UK Policy Director, Matthew Fell, said: “This is the wrong time to stunt a green recovery by making a sudden change to the grants on offer”.
The Green Homes Grant scheme has been cancelled less than a year since the announcement of the “£3bn green investment package” as the main part of this programme. Based on this, to save energy, it was planned to give grants to homeowners to upgrade their heating system. Public opinion believes that early cancellation of the plan is an embarrassing action for a government that leads the Cop26 and constantly and publicly outlines its plan to net zero. “We cannot expect anyone to think we’re a credible leader when our own policies on climate action are going in the wrong direction,” Greenpeace UK’s head of climate, Kate Blagojevic, said.
Contrary to their stated ambition to lead the world in terms of tackling climate change, members of the UK government with Boris Johnson at the helm, have taken no effective actions so far. “We want to continue to raise the bar on tackling climate change, and that’s why we’re setting the most ambitious target to cut emissions in the world. We want to see world leaders follow our lead and match our ambition in the run-up to the crucial climate summit COP26, as we will only build back greener and protect our planet if we come together to take action”, prime minister Boris Johnson said less than four months ago. But now, less than three months left to COP26, the government has come up with nothing for climate change but rhetoric. The government not only has done nothing, it has made the situation worse by taking the actions described above.
A simple question remains: How can a government which has not been able to take action on climate change keep other countries such China and the USA in line?