‘We can beat the sceptics’: Boris Johnson bolsters net-zero commitment in Tory conference speech

While all eyes were on Johnson's Brexit plans

Speaking at the event in Manchester today (2 October), Johnson, who inherited the UK’s 2050 net-zero goal from predecessor Theresa May, touted electric vehicles (EVs), renewable energy and battery technology as sectors enabling the UK to “lead the world… in reducing greenhouse gases that cause climate change”.

On renewable energy, Johnson poked fun at a comment he had made as London Mayor in 2013, when he accused Labour of investing in “a load of wind farms that failed to pull the skin off a rice pudding”.

He said: “Remember, it was only a few years ago when people were saying that solar power would never work in cloudy old Britain and that wind turbines would not pull the skin off a rice pudding.

“Well, there are some days when wind and solar are delivering more than half our energy needs. We can do it. We can beat the sceptics.”

Johnson was alluding to The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) latest Energy Trends data, which revealed that coal power generated a record low of 0.6% of the UK’s grid mix between April and June, and renewables, a record 35.5% in the same quarter.

He also continued to push the Conservative Party’s newly unveiled plans to build a £220m net-zero nuclear fusion plant by 2040 – which have been heavily criticised throughout the renewable power space and dubbed over-ambitious by the nuclear sector. 

Johnson urged listeners to visit the plant, in Culham, to “learn that this country has a global lead in fusion research” and to see firsthand that staff at the facility are “on the verge of creating commercially viable miniature fusion reactors for sale around the world”.

Addressing the so-called nuclear gap set to occur when seven of the UK’s existing nuclear facilities come offline in the coming years, Johnson joked: “I know they have been on the verge for some time; it is a pretty spacious kind of verge”.

‘Bus nuts’ and batteries

Continuing his speech, Johnson touched on low-carbon transport by vowing to increase the availability of “clean, green” buses in the UK.

Alluding to his time as London Mayor and his participation in the Vote Leave Campaign, Johnson stated: “It is not just because I am a bus nut that we want to expand bus transport”.

Johnson did not, however, detail specific plans for expanding bus availability in the UK – and the remainder of his mentions of green transport were dedicated to manufacturing rather than uptake.

He mentioned that one of the five fully electric cars sold annually in Europe are now manufactured in the UK – largely, in the North or the Midlands – and claimed that the West Midlands is currently playing home to a “21st century Industrial Revolution in battery technology”.

The latter of these comments builds on Johnson’s first speech as Prime Minister, made outside 10 Downing Street on 24 July. During the speech, which mainly focused in on Brexit preparations, Johnson said: “It is here in Britain that we are leading the world in the battery technology that will help cut CO2 and tackle climate change and produce green jobs for the next generation.”

edie readers keen to find out more about Boris Johnson’s environmental views and legacy are encouraged to read our recent article entitled: The next Prime Minister: Exploring Boris Johnson’s enigmatic views on the environment.

Sarah George

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