Is Boris Johnson a closet climate genius?

John Longworth

November 19, 2021

At first sight it would seem crazy to all but the religious climate zealots for a Conservative government to risk its reputation on the dubious agenda of carbon reduction.

Even if the UK were to become 100 per cent green it would not materially impact global carbon emissions since the UK represents just 1 per cent of those emissions, and reaching net zero in the existing timescales is a very costly exercise; one which risks putting the UK, at least in the short to medium term, at an economic disadvantage to competitor nations.However, Johnson’s COP26 approach may have potentially (and possibly accidentally) solved two problems. One of these is related to climate change politics and one related to a matter entirely separate; that of national security in an increasingly dangerous and unpredictable world. Both are tangential to the actual purpose of COP26, but are politically and strategically important.Firstly, Boris Johnson has been able to demonstrate that the UK has gone further than many others in combating climate change, bringing into sharp focus where the problem lies – with other countries.

This puts the UK green lobby in a difficult position. They now, in reality, have little to protest about here and should pack up and go to any one of China or India, the latter doing itself no favours by asking for a 20 year extension to its environmental goals.

Of course, they will not do this as those countries would not tolerate such activity and because, along with the cancel culture movement, they are at heart comparable to an anarchist and/or communist insurgency, no doubt encouraged by our enemies while those other countries continue to promote their goal of economic and political dominance.So, over the course of the conference, Boris has been able to highlight that there has been success with his ‘green’ agenda underpinned by considered policy. The utterances of a troubled, late adolescent that characterise green protesters’ demands can therefore be comfortably left by the wayside.The other matter, that of national security, is of greater importance. Reflecting on this conference in the world of twenty five years’ time, the COP26 commitments of the UK may be looked upon as a stroke of genius. However, it will require the Government to adjust the delivery of net zero slightly.The current mainstay of the UK’s renewable energy effort – wind-generated power –  provides a dispersed and independent source of energy. It will never be economic compared to fossil fuels and therefore requires subsidy through taxes and through hidden high-cost energy bills. Whilst it can contribute to our energy network, and the power produced can also be “stored” via gas to hydrogen, it is impossible for it to provide a significant proportion of our energy.

Relying on such a source leaves us vulnerable to threats from foreign providers of oil and gas such as Russia, from whom we imported nearly 4 million metric tonnes of oil in 2020. This is demonstrated by Belarus’ recent actions, threatening to cut off its supply of gas to the EU over the current migrant crisis.By contrast nuclear power is capable of providing all or most of our energy requirements and is again, entirely sovereign provided we “own” the technology. Nuclear has high, upfront capital costs but these are more than repaid over the life of a reactor, unlike short lived wind turbines, and average energy costs can be as cheap as fossil fuels. Nuclear fulfils the green agenda and it is the descendants of the anarchists who destroyed our civil nuclear programme who are now protesting in favour of “saving the planet”. Never have so many seen such irony and hypocrisy generated by so few.What the government needs to do, in the short term, is expand its programme of gas extraction from British land and sea via greater fracking, which has suffered from grossly unjust media coverage generated by nimbyists. Such a programme, combined with existing wind infrastructure, will serve as an energy bridge given the long development timescales of nuclear. Once nuclear is fully developed, whether through the new concept Rolls-Royce mini reactors or larger stations like Hinkley Point, the gas industry will then continue to provide the raw material for hydrogen fuel for aeroplanes, cars and possibly homes. This approach will reduce costs and lead to the same outcome both for climate change and security.With this approach to net zero, rather than continuing to focus on unreliable sources of energy and foreign imports, the next twenty five years would see Britain become entirely energy secure with no possibility of any other nation applying pressure or holding us to ransom. It would also reduce the eye watering costs of the net zero commitments but produce the same result for Britain. It would enable the continued pursuit of economic growth.So, Boris may be an accidental COP26 genius, and this approach may also convince those who are (rightly) sceptical about the carbon reduction rage to see a security purpose in the government’s agenda, even if they don’t see the environmental side. Accidental or not, the government must get the journey to net zero right, and whether it does or not will determine how we views Boris’ COP legacy years down the line.


  • John Longworth

    John Longworth is an entrepreneur, Chairman of the Independent Business Network and former DG of the British Chambers of Commerce. He is a former Conservative MEP.

Written by John Longworth

John Longworth is an entrepreneur, Chairman of the Independent Business Network and former DG of the British Chambers of Commerce. He is a former Conservative MEP.

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