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What is the Government’s green plan and how will it work?

Harriet Brewis
·5 min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Boris Johnson has unveiled his 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution.

Announcing the measures on Wednesday, the Prime Minister stressed that although the year has been overshadowed by a global pandemic, “I haven’t lost sight of our ambitious plans to level up across the country.”

Mr Johnson insists his proposals will “create, support and protect hundreds of thousands of green jobs” while ensuring the UK makes strides towards its target of net zero by 2050.

But what exactly are the ten points of his plan? And why are they important?

1. Offshore wind

The Government aims to see every home in the UK powered by offshore wind in order to cut emissions from electricity.

Offshore wind is an increasingly reliable energy source: its costs have fallen dramatically and new technology such as floating turbines could make even more of the natural conditions in the seas around the UK.

2. Hydrogen

The Government plans to increase “low carbon” hydrogen production capacity to five gigawatts by 2030, and develop the first town heated by the gas by the end of the decade.

Hydrogen could be a clean alternative to fossil fuels for industry and electricity generation. It could be used in boilers to heat homes instead of gas, and replace diesel in vehicles such as buses and HGVs.

It can be made from water using electricity, enabling it to harness clean power from renewables when demand from the grid is low. It is currently cheaper to make from natural gas, but these produce carbon emissions that would have to be captured and stored to become “low carbon”.

3. Nuclear

The plan includes renewed support for nuclear power, despite this remaining stubbornly expensive, while renewable costs have fallen.

Supporters of the technology, which provides a little under a fifth of Britain’s power from a fleet of reactors retiring in the coming years, say it generates reliable zero-carbon baseload electricity while renewables are intermittent.

Advocates of small modular reactors say they can be largely built in factories and take up smaller sites, reducing capital costs, while the Government may be hoping the more traditional Sizewell C plant can be delivered with a new funding mechanism that makes it cheaper to construct.

<p>Dungeness Nuclear Power Station in Romney Marsh</p>Getty Images

Dungeness Nuclear Power Station in Romney Marsh

Getty Images

4. Electric vehicles

The biggest share of the UK’s domestic emissions now comes from transport – primarily road traffic which also creates local air pollution that harms people’s health.

Bringing forward the ban on conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans sends a strong signal that it’s time to shift to electric vehicles.

But the Government is also having to invest in grants to help buy cars and chargepoint infrastructure, highlighting the two main concerns over electric vehicles: cost and range anxiety – how far you can drive without running out of power.

5. Public transport, cycling and walking

It is also widely recognised the UK cannot just switch out all its cars for greener models, as there are issues including non-tailpipe emissions and the resources needed for batteries.

Clean public transport options include hydrogen buses, while the Government has given funding to boosting walking and cycling – which also benefits health – though there is a fierce fight on over road and pavement space.

6. Jet zero and greener maritime

Planes and ships rely on fossil fuels without a clear alternative.

Mr Johnson has already announced support to develop the first zero-emission long-haul passenger flight, electric planes are in development and electric ferries already on the water, but solving the pollution from long-haul flights and long-distance tankers remains a big challenge.

7. Homes and public buildings

Homes account for almost a fifth of carbon dioxide emissions, mostly from heating, with millions of draughty homes leaking heat generated by gas or even oil boilers.

Efforts to cut domestic emissions face significant hurdles including switching boilers for low-carbon heat pumps that are not easily compatible with existing central heating systems and overcoming long payback times for some insulation.

The plan has more money for energy efficiency and targets to install 600,000 heat pumps a year by 2028, but the Government has long been warned by its climate advisers it is off track on these fronts, so it is very much playing catch-up.

8. Carbon capture

Ministers have talked for a long time about technology to capture emissions from power stations or industry and pipe it to storage deep underground, for example old oil and gas fields under the North Sea.

It is yet to get going at scale, but the focus has turned to “clusters” where groups of power stations, factories or industrial plants could be linked up to the infrastructure to store carbon to save on costs.

9. Nature

As well as a climate crisis, the world is facing a wildlife crisis, with loss of habitats and wild species causing harm to important services such as pollination, flood prevention and healthy soils.

But the good news is both can be solved at the same time, with measures such as funding for planting trees or letting them regenerate naturally, or restoring peatland to store carbon, protect habitat and curb flooding.

The Government has promised an extra £40 million for the green recovery challenge fund, for charities restoring nature across the UK, and has a long-standing tree-planting pledge – but is behind on those efforts.

10. Innovation and finance

Experts will always warn there is no technology silver bullet, but there is a need to develop innovative solutions, from alternatives to jet fuel to schemes that can take excess carbon out of the air.

And finance plays a key role in delivering the wholesale, economy-wide shift away from fossil fuels to a clean future, so the focus has increasingly grown on how markets and investors face up to the climate threat.

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