The Conservative manifesto skirted the issue, but with a huge majority and the UK hosting the next world climate summit, the PM should act boldlyby Tom Sasse / January 9, 2020 / Leave a comment
Towards the end of his pre-breakfast victory speech on 13th December, Boris Johnson made a promise: “to make this country the cleanest, greenest on earth, with the most far-reaching environmental programme… you the people of this country voted to be carbon-neutral in this election—you voted to be carbon-neutral by 2050. And we’ll do it.”
You might feel like you’ve heard this one before. David Cameron famously flaunted his environmental credentials in opposition before complaining about “green crap” in office. Theresa May put the 2050 net-zero target into law even though her government was failing to meet its more modest target of an 80 per cent reduction by the same deadline.
But Johnson now has the power to act decisively.
Apart from reiterating his commitment to May’s newer target, the prime minister gave little away in the campaign. The Conservative manifesto devoted just two pages to climate change—compared to 12 in the Lib Dems’ and 17 in Labour’s—which mostly focussed on supporting “British ingenuity.”
There was no sign of the “very significant changes in policy” the independent Climate Change Committee has said will be needed to make a 2050 net-zero target “credible.”
But the politics—if not the immediate economics—of tackling climate change are now much simpler. With a working majority of 87 and the opposition parties on board, Johnson has more space to act on climate change than any previous prime minister.
The environment is now the fourth most important issue for voters—behind only Brexit, healthcare and the economy—compared with eighth a year ago. It is even higher for younger voters.
But as well as domestic political dividends bold climate action also offers Johnson another prize. In November, the UK will host COP26, the next UN climate summit, in Glasgow. It will be one of the first major tests of the UK’s influence on the world stage after it leaves the EU—and one of Johnson’s first as a global leader.
The diplomatic challenge will be daunting. At the end of last year, the UN climate conference in Madrid broke down without agreement on international carbon trading—the key area of discussion. Climate laggards appear emboldened by Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement.
To stand any chance of making…