Britain’s Prime Minister was long on boosterism but predictably short on numbers about his Net Zero policies, as he faced questions this week from the chairs of Parliament’s powerful back bench committees.
Industrialists, investors, activists, the government’s scientific advisers the CCC, and trade bodies such as the CBI and Solar Energy UK, have for months complained that Johnson’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, released in November, is light on detail.
Without adequate substance for his government’s boasts, they warn, Prime Minister Johnson may be walking metaphorically naked into November’s CoP26 climate summit co-hosted by his government with Italy.
Ministers replying for D-BEIS have batted off questions about money, terms and timelines for the government’s follow-through. They say chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Comprehensive Spending Review due before the autumn will put flesh out Johnson’s pledges.
Philip Dunne, feisty chair of the Commons’ Environmental Audit committee sought in his ten minutes on Wednesday to prize from Johnson deadlines for releasing substantiating proposals, including the long-promised Net Zero Strategy.
“When can we expect you or your ministers to start delivering to the House the policies required to get us to 78%”, Ludlow’s Conservative asked.
Johnson had no answer, querying instead the difference between a ‘vicuna’ and a ‘laguna’. He deflected to investments made not by government and already declared, citing twice Nissan’s Gigafactory announcement and Stellantis’ EV plant in Ellesmere Port.
Johnson presented as a triumph his banning by 2030 of new ICE vehicles in favour of EVs. “No other country in Europe has adopted such a brave and bold timetable. What has happened, much to our satisfaction and relief, is that the automotive sector in the UK and around the world has responded and is investing.”
Decarbonising Britain’s notoriously badly insulated buildings, – source of 15% of the nation’s carbon emissions – will involve switching up to 25 million homes from gas to heat pumps or to hydrogen-fired boilers.
Dunne pushed Johnson three times for a publication date for D-BEIS’s hydrogen strategy. Johnson spoke over his colleague.
Labour’s Clive Betts had a go. The CCC last December had pointed out decarbonising homes had slowed to ‘minimal progress’ since 2015, Betts reminded Johnson. A framework from government was needed to re-start it.
Johnson turned on his candour simulator, avoiding any true candour. “This is something that is very difficult to pull off, because we need to be able to ensure that we can heat people’s homes and provide them with power in an affordable way while also reducing CO2. The principal ways….will be through ground-source or air-source heat pumps, or through hydrogen”.
“We are building a market, working with producers and manufacturers ….to ensure that we drive the bills down.
“What we cannot have is a situation in which ordinary people living in their own homes are suddenly faced with an unexpected and unreasonable cost to put in ground-source or air-source heat”.
Betts objected that, on CCC estimates, 25 million gas boilers needed changing before 2033. In 2020, only 38,000 homes were switched to heat pumps.
Johnson had no numbers. “Working with manufacturers” to “create a market” was the closest Britain’s head of government approximated to credibility