As the host country for the climate summit, the UK wants to demonstrate leadership on the international stage. Ahead of COP26, the UK government presented ambitious national goals for reforestation. Wind energy plays an important role in this. “Saudi Arabia’s wind energy” is Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s motto. Not just because it’s better for the environment; also because it creates jobs and economic growth.
For the first time in a long time, the British Prime Minister gave a speech without joke. Even when the British were recently in a traffic jam in front of a gas station and found empty shelves in supermarkets, he still managed to make them laugh. This time there was no humor in his message as he addressed G20 leaders in Rome on Sunday about climate.
First country with ‘net zero’
“There’s no reason to procrastinate,” he said. “We’re already seeing the devastation caused by climate change, from heat waves and droughts to wildfires and hurricanes.” 1.5 degrees should remain within reach, the prime minister stressed. “When this climate summit fails, everything else fails.”
As host of the climate summit in Glasgow, Johnson demanded world leaders set long-term targets to reduce their emissions. But does he have the right to expect that from another country? The answer is yes: his government is presenting a reforestation plan that goes far beyond what most of the world’s far-right leaders, including the Dutch government, are pursuing.
And with that, Johnson continued in the direction his political predecessors set in motion. Great Britain was the first country in the world to net zero purpose and stated in the law. Former Prime Minister David Cameron planted more windmills about ten years ago than his Conservative party at the time deemed necessary.
Johnson, known as a political ‘opportunist’ who knows better than anyone about catching traditional left Labor voters, is familiar with a recent poll: more than 56 percent of Britons want the government to do more to go green. This, combined with a political strategy described by the term ‘boosterism’ (a penchant for pumping money into large-scale transport projects) has led to high ambitions in his government’s plans.
Long tradition of environmental activism
Wind energy is at the heart of the goal to provide green electricity across the country by 2035. The Siemens Garmesa plant north of the city of Hull is a much-cited example of how investing in green technology can also deliver economic growth to poorer areas.
The plant recently received 186 million for further expansion. Director Andy Skys: “It’s not just the 1,000 jobs here in the factory, but all of the supply chain that goes with it that will create job opportunities in the region.” The director proudly pointed to the blades of the 81 meter long windmill where about twenty people were working behind him. “One stroke of a wick like that can give a house an entire day of energy.”
But investing heavily in green technology is not enough, says climate expert Tom Burke. He heads the E3G think tank and previously advised the UK government on climate policy. “No one doubts the current prime minister’s personal motivation to go green. His family has a long tradition of environmental activism and his current wife has a reputation for it. The question is whether he can fulfill that and turn it into government policy where nothing is left out.” And there are doubts about that among experts,” Burke said. “It was about his competence as a politician, not his beliefs as a person.”
The technology is already there, now we still need good policies
Investing in green technology should go hand in hand with investing in social transition, explains Burke. “The big social changes that await us must be controlled by the government. People have to be trained and retrained so that nothing ends up without a job. I haven’t seen a plan for that, and it’s dangerous because if you’re socially If you don’t get along with everyone, there’s always going to be people who object for fear of losing income.”
And it’s a problem that, according to Burke, is global. The technology is there, but now it’s up to world leaders to translate it into good policy.
Correspondent Fleur Launspach also spoke to Prime Minister Johnson’s father, climate activist Stanley Johnson, for this story:
“Certified introvert. Devoted internet fanatic. Subtly charming troublemaker. Thinker.”