On Wednesday, the Prime Minister announced his much anticipated 10-point plan for a ‘Green Industrial Revolution’. Given the ongoing economic and political turmoil globally and nationally, and indeed the crisis within the walls of No. 10 following Cummings’ departure at the weekend, this is a watershed moment.
This is the first time a Prime Minister has made a significant intervention on climate change for almost a decade. Yes, Theresa May’s parting gift was to set the 2050 net zero target, but setting a target is the easy part and meaningless if there is no serious policy backing it up. Wednesday’s announcement is the first genuine attempt at an economy-wide plan to tackle climate change with a comprehensive set of policies to significantly cut emissions beyond the power sector, and not just up to 2050 but with meaningful interim 2030 targets too.
The package announced was worth £12bn – £3bn of which was new money. But the headline commitment was the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030. This is a truly world leading policy putting the UK in pole position in the global electric vehicle race, and will drive a fundamental change in consumer behaviour and the whole energy system.
As ever with these grand cross-departmental announcements, there’s a lot more flesh on the bones required over the coming months to weed out the substance from the spin. The upcoming Energy White Paper, the National Infrastructure Strategy and the Transport Decarbonisation Plan will help us do that.
But make no mistake, taken together this represents a clear shift in tone – the Government is now united in seeing decarbonisation as an economic opportunity to create jobs, to revitalise former industrial heartlands, to innovate, to export and to build new supply chains, rather than seeing it as an upfront environmental cost.
Environmentally this is essential. Economically this is astute and measured (contrary to what the Lord Lawson brigade will have you believe). This is not a reckless gamble. The Government is spreading its bets across a range of technologies and sectors it believes the UK can lead the world in. Areas that play to our geographical and industrial strengths.
But politically, will it win the Tories the next election? Will it prevent Labour rebuilding the Red Wall? With Dom gone, does this represent the triumph of the greenies signalling a softer approach to governing over the remainder of this Parliament?
The fact is the Conservatives made it clear in their 2019 manifesto that tackling climate change was a top priority – one of six ‘guarantees’ on page 1. And by pure geographical happenstance the majority of this new investment will be focused in deprived coastal communities and former industrial heartlands in South Wales, Teesside, Humberside and Merseyside. These areas have relevant skills and infrastructure that can be redeployed, and local access to what Boris is calling the modern equivalent of Saudi Arabia’s oil fields – offshore wind.
How much of this voters will see in terms of tangible jobs and investment before the next election remains to be seen though. And the ban on petrol car sales does carry political risk. We only have to look at the gilets jaunes protests over the channel to see what can happen when politicians attempt to meddle with the costs of that bastion of personal independence – the automobile.
But it is a calculated risk, with the risk of doing nothing far greater for everyone. Looking at offshore wind, the last decade has shown that ambitious UK targets coupled with market-driven policy mechanisms can drive rapid innovation and cost reductions that even the biggest techno-optimists in 2010 would have been pleasantly surprised by.
This week’s announcement sets a new raft of ambitious ten year targets, backed from the top, and with the full weight of the Government machine behind them. Joined-up, considered and pioneering policy announcements from UK Governments have been sorely lacking in recent years. This bucks that trend and should be applauded.