Johnson’s demise could damage the climate change campaign
Many analysts and many ordinary people in Britain view Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in political terms, as a dead man walking.
The embattled leader in the UK is trying to save his job, but he still has the potential to cause long-term damage to the nation.
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.
It has always seemed a little strange to think of Johnson as a hero for the green cause alongside Greta Thunberg, but it must be admitted.
He is an old Etonian, a privilege-based Etonian with an elite world view. However, he’s not the ideal eco-warrior. He was, however, a convincing opponent of Big Oil and corporate polluters for those who saw him at the COP26 environment summit in Glasgow last summer.
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.
There is a problem with his Tory party because not everyone shares his concern about the environment. A large portion of the Tory party still believes that climate change is a hoax to harm British industry and the well being of its people.
Many of these deniers live in constituencies that won narrow majority votes 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 this crisis, there is a risk that he will abandon the pro-environmental agenda.
The Tory right wing can make a convincing case that high gas prices are due to government investment in and promotion for alternative energy sources. However, there is little evidence that this simplistic view is true.
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.
Even if he is forced out by a Tory coup as seems increasingly likely, there is no guarantee that his successor will be as committed to the environment 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 major financial institutions that have resisted fossil fuel investment are British, or at least based in London.
If the UK loses its leadership in the green cause, it would be a huge setback to the global campaign for 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, a Dubai-based award-winning journalist in business journalism, is Frank Kane. Twitter: @frankkanedubai
Disclaimer: Views expressed in this section by authors are their opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of Arab News.