“Here, in Britain, we are leading the world in battery technology that will help cut CO2, tackle climate change, and produce green jobs for the next generation.” – Boris Johnson’s first speech as prime minister on July 24, 2019
Conservative Boris Johnson has taken over as Britain’s next prime minister, defeating Jeremy Hunt in a ballot of party members. What does this mean for Britain’s climate change policies? While Johnson has not announced any specific actions he intends to take, he does have an extensive, albeit inconsistent, environmental record.
Johnson often tries to paint himself in an environmentally-friendly light. As foreign secretary in 2017, he publicly encouraged the United States to remain in the Paris Agreement as Donald Trump appeared to be pulling out from it. When Extinction Rebellion protesters showed up in London this year, he wrote in The Telegraph of “the frightening impact of humanity on the natural world,” but still told them to “lecture China” instead.
Johnson has not held back when offering his opinions on climate change, but what he says and does are often two very different things. Johnson served as Mayor of London from 2008 to 2016. During this time, his environmental stance swayed. In 2008, he scrapped the western extension of London’s congestion charge, saying it was economically irresponsible and that the increase in CO2 emissions from removing it would be ‘trivial’. However, the extension, put in place the previous year, decreased traffic by 14 percent — the equivalent of taking 30,000 cars off the road each day.
In 2013, Johnson announced plans for an Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) in central London. By 2020, only zero and low-emission vehicles would be allowed in that area. While certainly a step in the right direction, the plan first crossed his desk four years prior in 2009. He would not give the go-ahead to implement the ULEZ until 2020, well after he left office. Johnson has expressed hope for a greener future in London. To him, that would mean no more fossil fuel-powered cars by 2034, and an energy transition to nuclear power. Whether Johnson will work towards this kind of vision as prime minister remains to be seen.
Compared to Johnson’s varying environmental stances as Mayor of London, his climate voting record as a member of Parliament is far more clear. On most issues, Johnson voted against pro-environmental policies. He opposed setting decarbonization targets for the UK and requiring a strategy for the energy industry to capture and store carbon. He also voted against a variable tax rate for vehicles based on their carbon dioxide emissions, which would incentivize buying greener cars over gas guzzlers.
Now that Boris Johnson is the new prime minister, it must be pressed upon him how critical it is to take meaningful action on climate change. It seems as if he may not need convincing on the severity of the issue, but now he must turn his words into action instead of playing politics.