What would happen if the new prime minister acted as though he believes there is a climate emergency?

Dave Timms24 Jul 2019

With the new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, making his ministerial appointments, what would happen if he now really decided to act as though there is a climate emergency? What should his first 100 days in office look like? Our Head of Political Affairs, Dave Timms, sets out the future we need.

Imagine Boris Johnson, now he’s finally reached the goal he’s aimed at for so long, has a nasty premonition. Safely tucked up in No10 and with the Cabinet appointed, he fitfully dreams of a future world at war over food shortages, sea-level rises and an unprecedented extinction of species. He sees how his flippant and irresponsible attitude to global warming had enraged young and old alike, leading to humiliation at the polls and in the history books. Waking up in a cold sweat he gets on the phone to Sir Mark Sedwill, the Chief of the Civil Service, demanding a new first 100 days strategy. “Tear it up and start again” he yells. “I’m going to be the first Prime Minister for Climate Emergency.”

First weeks

There are some immediate policy announcements that can be made now which don’t require new public spending or legislation. His government immediately rules out a review to the Traffic Light System which the fracking industry had been hoping for and would allow fracking companies to trigger bigger earthquakes. Banning fracking permanently in England (most recently advocated by the Conservative Environment Network, among many others) will have to wait until after the autumn Party Conference when a Written Ministerial Statement could be ready to amend the over-arching National Planning Policy Framework. New planning rules can also rule out permission for any new exploration and extraction of fossil fuels for power generation and remove the effective ban on onshore wind farms.

The new Chancellor, Sajid Javid tells Treasury officials that the climate emergency is the priority for the Comprehensive Spending Review, that radical new thinking is required no matter where it comes from and dispatches the First Secretary to the Treasury Rishi Sunak to discuss the Green New Deal with Labour’s frontbench.

Business and Energy Secretary, Andrea Leadsom asks the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) to report on how much the short-term carbon targets (or budgets) should be tightened by to get to net-zero emissions by 2050. At the same time she asks them to start work on a major new study to be published before the end of the year, of how quickly the UK get could get to Net Zero if it pulled out ALL the stops – and fully took account of our historic responsibly for climate breakdown and our wealthy position.

The week ends with a call to Donald Trump to let him know Sir Kim Darroch is on a flight back to Washington, re-appointed as UK Ambassador.

August

The Chancellor announces the government's intention to cancel HS2, saving £56bn, and the road building programme, saving £25bn, in advance of a Climate Emergency Budget to be prepared for October.

More announcements, not requiring Parliament to be in session, come in August. The new Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps delays his (now overland) departure for summer holiday to announce an autumn review of the National Policy Statement on Aviation, to cap growth in aviation at 20%, and rules out expansion of Heathrow or any other airport. 

He also brings forward the ban on sales of new petrol or diesel cars and vans by a decade to 2030.

September

Secondary Legislation (known as a Statutory Instrument) strengthening the 2008 Climate Change Act to rule out using carbon offsets (unfairly buying our effort from other countries) to meet existing carbon budgets is put before Parliament in the first week back from recess in September. It takes place just before the Party Conference, where every Minister and Secretary of State is told to include a substantial section on their carbon cutting plans.

Further primary legislation (a new law) giving the Government the power to set a target for net zero emissions before 2050 follows, with the new date set once the CCC has reported on how rapidly we should speed up the process.

With Parliament back, other legislation can be given a makeover. The seriously under-powered Environment Bill is relaunched to give the UK a green watchdog and laws to strike terror into polluters hearts, and ensure environmental regulations can’t be reduced after Brexit.

Certain issues won’t be resolved easily and it’s obvious the political impasse on Brexit will continue, with his own Party demanding exit and opposition parties increasingly solid behind a second referendum. However breaking with the EU without a deal is widely recognised as a disaster for the environment, so that’s now ruled out - as are future trade deals with any country not committed to the Paris Agreement target of limiting climate change to 1.5 degrees (that means another call to Trump). It’s too late to make changes to the existing Trade Bill, so a new one will be introduced in October (once Article 50 has been extended again) to make this a reality and set out a vision for a transparent, sustainable trade policy supporting climate, nature and people.

October

Cancelling HS2 and the road building programme frees up funds to roll out a comprehensive Electric Vehicle charging network, a massive programme of home insulation and low carbon heating, and the planting of millions of trees - all of which will be announced at the Climate Emergency Budget in October. Free bus travel for under 30’s too (which obviously he’ll give credit to Labour for proposing).

The Chancellor announces a consultation on a range of tax incentives to encourage greener behaviour – from Air Passenger Duty graded to deter frequent flyers (but one flight a year tax free would be a headline grabbing popular touch), a pesticide tax, a stamp duty rebate to incentivise more efficient and insulated homes, a scrappage scheme to get the most polluting cars of the roads.

A huge new £10bn a year investment programme for transport (the dirty sector that had been clearly failing under Chris Grayling) is announced, to achieve world-class local rail, bus, tram and cycling networks. It will take longer to plan, so the detail will have to wait until the Spring Financial Statement in March 2020.

The PM creates an entire new Department of Climate Emergency to take charge of rolling out the whole climate emergency and nature recovery programme. 

Hopefully the public will forgive him for the delay, though the timing, as the UK prepares to host the UN climate talks known as COP26, will cement the UK’s reputation as a world leader and the win admiration from the UK public.

This can't be just a dream

Not to act now would be a climate nightmare. If we can’t rely on PM Boris Johnson deciding to do it of his own accord, we'll just have to make him do it anyway. Join us!