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Boris goes green and goes down the gurgler

Net Zero was a huge mistake

19 February 2022

9:00 AM

19 February 2022

9:00 AM

I’d like to say I lost confidence in Boris Johnson when he went to the Peppa Pig park. I’ve never been a fan of Peppa and her insufferable family – too goody-two-shoes, too boring. Give me Gruffalo, even Bluey, any day. (As granny to six little ones, I’m somewhat of an expert.)

But I’d actually lost confidence in Brexit-achieving Boris when he gave that deplorable (adjective chosen carefully) speech to the United Nations General Assembly about it being easy being green. It wasn’t just because he was so wrong but that he actually seemed to believe in that ‘green crap’, to quote a former UK prime minister.

Unsurprisingly, he adopted the same evangelical tone when he attended the Glasgow climate conference – COP26. He even claimed the conference was a huge success notwithstanding the non-attendance of the leaders of China and Russia, both very large emitters.

When asked a detailed question about achieving UK’s (overly) ambitious emissions reduction targets leading to net zero by 2050, he simply batted it away, claiming that he doesn’t do detail and never has.

For some topics, this sort of response is sort of OK; it will always prompt some cackling from the audience, something which Boris clearly finds energising. But to respond in this manner at an international climate conference, the importance of which he himself had emphasised, gave the game away.

Don’t get me wrong: I will always admire Boris for getting Brexit over the line. It was only someone as pushy and determined as Boris who could use Brexit as a means of securing the top job and winning a resounding election victory. That’s an enormous tick from me.

But, sadly even in the case of Brexit, details matter. His inability – or is it unwillingness? – to do anything about the continued flow of illegal migrants across the Channel suggests that when it came to Brexit, he was more tip than cigar. The ongoing issues related to Northern Ireland confirm this proposition.

Let me get back to green Boris. For reasons that are not completely clear – OK, there is his environmentally obsessed new wife – Boris has become a climate catastrophe disciple. He and Greta really have a lot in common.

Many years ago when Boris was the editor of this fine magazine, he sang a different song on climate change. Sceptical of the need for action, let alone the UK going on ahead, he understood then that there are some potentially significant costs from restricting the use of fossil fuels.

Of course, we are all entitled to change our minds. But his current use of hyperbolic language, his preference for top-down mandates and his seeming unawareness of the costs for ordinary folk of his government’s measures points to the full 180 degrees turn with nary a qualification.

The irony is that just as Boris was waxing in triumphal fashion at Glasgow, a full-blown energy crisis was emerging that continues to affect both the UK and Europe. Indeed, the electricity price cap in the UK had already been raised by nearly 10 per cent in October. It was also clear that the next increase in 2022 would be higher again, given galloping gas prices. (The announced figure for April is 54 per cent.)

Unsurprisingly, he failed to mention at the climate gabfest that one of Britain’s remaining coal-fired power stations had to be cranked up because of a prolonged wind drought. But he showed no hesitation in boasting about two of his key climate initiatives – forcing petrol/diesel automobiles off the road and insisting households ditch their reliable gas boilers in favour of the preferred heat pumps.

Recall here that there is a legislated target in the UK of a 78-per-cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2035 from the 1990 level as well as net zero 2050. But also bear in mind that the UK contributes only around 1 per cent of the world’s emissions. In other words, no one will notice – and certainly not the globe’s climate – what Britain does in this space.

According to Boris’s climate rule book, the sale of new petrol/diesel cars will be banned from 2030, with the sale of larger petrol/diesel heavy goods vehicles prohibited from 2040, all to be replaced by electric vehicles. Well – that’s the plan, at least.

The practicalities of the plan still haven’t been fully worked through, including the complication that 70 per cent of homes in the UK don’t have their own garages and so charging from home is not really an option.

And then there is the ‘plan’ to force households to replace their (often entirely serviceable) gas boilers used for central heating with expensive heat pumps. To make these heat pumps an effective substitute, most households will also have to spend up big to insulate their homes.

All up, we are looking at 20,000 quid at least, with some small subsidies available to some households. There is also the teeny-weeny practical issue of the substantial lack of qualified installers. But let’s not forget, Boris is not a practical person and thinks the details can be left to others.

Partygate aside, it’s really Boris’s appalling climate policies and the commitment to net zero by 2050 that could  and should lead to his undoing. The Remainers were never going to love him but many other Conservative party parliamentarians thought Boris could be an effective prime minister. But as the full implications of his climate obsession have begun to sink in – and the adverse impacts for very many Red Wall voters – the size of his parliamentary support base has shrunk.

At least, it looks like there is now some serious climate fight-back from some members of the government. Consideration is being given to reinvigorating the nuclear energy industry, having allowed it to wallow for many years. A number of licences has been given to gas companies to drill various sites in the North Sea. There is little doubt that the mandates for electric cars and heat pumps will be ditched or significantly kicked down the road.

Sadly, it’s too late to prevent serious hardships for many households and businesses hit with higher electricity and gas bills. In combination with higher taxes, higher interest rates and higher prices more generally, Boris’s premiership may well be doomed. His loony green agenda will be seen as one of the major contributing factors.

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