Johnson’s demise could damage the climate change campaign

Johnson’s demise could damage the climate change campaign

Johnson’s demise could damage the climate change campaign
Boris Johnson at the opening ceremony of Cop26 in Glasgow. (Getty Images)
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Many analysts, and indeed many ordinary people in Britain, view Prime Minister Boris Johnson as a dead man walking, in political terms.
But as the embattled leader of the UK thrashes around trying to save his job after a string of revelations about his liking for a good old-fashioned knees-up, the former journalist still has the capacity to do further long-term damage to the country.
The lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, plans to cut the BBC’s funding and deployment of the military against seaborne migrants — these drastic policy moves have recently been proposed in what many see as blatant diversionary tactics, with Johnson hoping to deflect public attention away from the “partygate” scandals threatening his premiership.
Now, however, some climate change campaigners fear a more serious policy U-turn that could threaten the UK’s position as one of the leading actors in the battle against global warming. They believe Johnson, in a desperate attempt to appease Conservative MPs and the voters who put them in their jobs, is planning to ditch the “green” agenda that has been a feature of his government and for which he has won praise from environmental activists around the world.
The thought of Johnson as a hero of the green cause alongside Greta Thunberg has always looked a bit strange, it must be admitted.
An old Etonian from a privileged background with an elitist world view, he is not the archetypal eco-warrior. But for those who saw him up close at the COP26 environmental summit in Glasgow last year, he turned in a pretty convincing role as an enemy of Big Oil, corporate polluters and all the other boogeymen of the green movement.
Spurred on by his wife Carrie — a committed environmentalist — and perhaps out of concern for the futures of his many children, Johnson committed the UK to a raft of green policies, ranging from big projects in renewable energy and a nationwide electric vehicle charging network to strict measures against “dirty” fuels like coal.
He has pledged the UK to a 2050 net-zero target as part of a “build back better” strategy announced soon after the pandemic hit the country hard in 2020 and has overseen a variety of policies that make him probably the “greenest” leader in the history of the UK.
The problem is that not everybody in his Tory party shares his concerns about the environment. There is a sizable faction that still believes climate change is a hoax designed to damage British industry and the well-being of its people.
Many of these deniers are in constituencies won with narrow majorities at the last election. Their constituents are already worried about the rising cost of living — the UK just reported its highest inflation rate in 30 years — and many put that down to spiraling fuel bills.

Even if the UK PM survives the current crisis, there is a fear he will ditch his pro-environmental agenda.

Frank Kane

The Tory right wing can easily portray high bills for gas and petrol as a result of government investment in and promotion of alternative energy sources, even though there is little evidence this simplistic view stacks up.
If Johnson survives the current crisis, there is a fear he will ditch his pro-environmental agenda before the next general election in a bid to win votes in the marginal seats — including the northern “red wall” of seats in what were traditional Labour heartlands — that will decide whether or not the Conservative Party remains in power.
And if, as looks increasingly likely, he is thrown out by a Tory coup, there is no guarantee his successor will have such a personal commitment to the environmental cause.
In global terms, Europe has been the driving force behind the environmental movement and the UK — though not a part of the EU anymore — has been probably the most committed country. Many of the big financial firms that have turned so decidedly against investment in fossil fuels are British or at least based in the City of London.
If the green cause were to lose the leadership of the UK, it would be a big setback to the global campaign to meet Paris Agreement targets.
But it also highlights the risks of pursuing an environmental agenda merely as a political bandwagon, a fad to attract voters, rather than as a coherent and sophisticated long-term national strategy, as other countries have — notably Saudi Arabia and other regional oil producers.

  • Frank Kane is an award-winning business journalist based in Dubai. Twitter: @frankkanedubai
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