Friday 27 November 2020

From the Ground Up – the Climate Movement Gets in Shape for COP26

Written by Iain Bruce and first published at International Viewpoint

The surprising success of the online mobilisation, “From the Ground Up”, from 12-16 November, poses new challenges and new responsibilities for the climate movement. This “Global Gathering for Climate Justice” was organised by the COP26 Coalition to mark the time when the United Nations climate talks were meant to have taken place in Glasgow. [1

Lasting five days with 53 events and some 8,000 people registered, it brought together an impressive range of movements, speakers and topics. Together they sketched out key components of the response that is needed to the climate and Covid crisis – not only in the next year leading up to the postponed COP26 in Glasgow, but beyond that across the coming decade, when drastic action is needed to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

With Via Campesina and small farmers from South East Asia and South Africa to the Western Isles of Scotland, activists discussed the need to replace industrial agriculture with local, agroecological production as a way of getting food on our plates. Indigenous activists from Central America and the Amazon to Sulawesi talked about the struggle to defend their forests and lands from extractive industries, including the important issue of mining the minerals needed for electric motors.

Oil and aviation workers, from the North Sea to the South Atlantic, debated alongside public transport campaigners from Glasgow and retrofitters from Leeds the need for a just transition to climate jobs that really responds to, and is steered by, the workers concerned. Feminist and Black Lives Matter activists from North and South America talked about the overlap between their mass protests and the climate struggle.

Veronica Gago, of the Ni Una Menos movement in Argentina, said we need to go beyond solidarity, and think in terms of building bridges between the different actions we take, wherever we are. One of the main leaders of the October 2019 uprising in Ecuador, the Indigenous leader Leonidas Iza, called for the climate movement, the feminist movement and the youth movement to agree on a worldwide uprising next year in the run up to Glasgow, “because capitalism threatens the end of humanity”.

If anyone thought the pandemic had silenced the climate movement, this event should have set them straight. It showed that this movement is now a key site where concerns, anger and proposals over the combined climate, health and economic crises are coming together. The British government under Boris Johnson, reflecting the consequences of the election of Joe Biden in the US, is now seeking to relaunch its image with burnished green credentials. The movement around COP26 has the potential to become a strong counter pole to this promotion of “Green Capitalism”.

Same storm, different boats

The COP26 Coalition issued an important second political statement a day before the event which acknowledged that the fact so many governments and corporations are talking about getting rid of fossil fuels is itself a victory for the years of street protests and resistance by front line communities. [2] But the movement should not trust these elites to follow through. The statement was signed by dozens of organisations within the Coalition and stated:

The global pandemic has made clear that the multiple crises we face today – climate breakdown, ecological destruction, racism, patriarchy, hunger, poverty, the mass displacement of peoples – are all interconnected. These crises share common roots that see the earth’s resources exploited for the benefit of the few at the cost of the many, and the poor and marginalised bear the worst consequences. We may all be in the midst of the same storm, but we are patently not all in the same boat.

This was the message taken into the centre of Glasgow on the second day of the event, as activists sailed a boat, decked in banners reading “Same Storm, Different Boats”, down the River Clyde to the Scottish Events Campus where the COP will take place. [3

Standing next to the boat, the Coalition’s Scottish Coordinator, Quan Nguyen, said: “We need the UK and Scottish Governments to acknowledge that their targets of net zero 2045 and 2050 are not only too late, but open loopholes for fossil fuel corporations who have caused the crisis in the first place to continue polluting and burning the planet... The Governments need to hold polluters to account, shut down fossil fuel corporations and fossil fuel sites. They need to stop exporting fossil fuel technology, and start paying reparations to countries and communities in the Global South.”

A diverse, militant, internationalism movement

To some extent, the From the Ground Up event showed that the movement around the COP26 Coalition has already broken beyond the NGO framework that gave rise to it. Those taking part are mainly young, probably more women than men, and fairly diverse, although this is an area it certainly wants to develop further. The tone is militant, and the content largely anti-capitalist, even if not everyone wants to use that kind of language. And it is resolutely internationalist.

It may have been a blessing in disguise that the big figures of the environmental movement – Greta Thunberg, Naomi Klein, AOC – couldn’t make it. Their absence reinforced the sensation of a broad, horizontal, mass movement, reemerging from within the lockdown.

Big challenges certainly lie ahead. Sustaining the momentum and building on it will be one of them.

In the short term, there is the governmental Climate Ambition Summit on 12 December, which the Johnson government is organising together with the UN, France, Italy and Chile, to mark five years since the conclusion of the Paris Agreement. From the Coalition and the wider climate movement, we need to make our presence felt and raise those big questions about the promises being made, and the assumptions behind them.

In March there may be another, shorter online event of the Coalition, to talk more about strategies for action. In particular, plans will have to to be developed for the kinds of protest that are needed at the G7 summit to be hosted somewhere in the UK in the summer 2021, and leading up to the COP itself in Glasgow 1-11 November 2021. The Glasgow COP will be preceded by a UN pre-summit in Milan, Italy 30 September – 2 October, and earlier preparatory talks, possibly in Bonn, Germany, at dates that are still to be decided.

So these could also become targets for protests. But even if all these meetings do become physical events, and even if social distancing is no longer a necessity by November, it is likely that the plans for the Glasgow COP will aim at decentralised activities – maybe culminating in a big event and protest in Glasgow itself in November 2021, combined with rolling protests in other parts of the world, and maybe online convergences too. The Fridays for the Future movement of schoolchildren striking for climate action has shown the possibility of wider action by workers through strike and protest action in workplaces.

Scottish politics are going to intersect with the run up to COP too. The demand for good, green jobs to build out of the pandemic will only grow, as Scotland likely becomes one of the parts of Europe worst hit by unemployment in 2021. The devolved Scottish government’s record on climate action so far has been one of the weakest points of its governing party, the Scottish National Party (SNP). But if, as seems almost certain, the SNP wins a majority in next May’s elections to the Scottish parliament or an overwhelming majority in alliance with the Scottish Green Party, the swelling support for independence and a new referendum will reach a crescendo.

That means the months leading up to COP26 could well see a full-blown constitutional crisis of the British state, pitting the official hosts, the UK government of Boris Johnson, against the de-facto local hosts in the Scottish government, Glasgow City Council and the people of the city and Scotland. On the ground, Independence will be the big political issue of the day. Many in the Scottish climate movement have already taken a position in favour of this. But how this works out in the wider British movement could be more complicated.

Some absences from the movement

There remain some absences in the COP movement that ought to be addressed. Although the strong presence of the Global South was one of the most impressive aspects of this online gathering, it was uneven. The participation from Africa was weaker. So was that from East Asia, to some extent South Asia, and the Middle East. More surprisingly perhaps, mainland European climate movements were largely absent. The questions over EU climate policy are ones that need to be taken very seriously at COP26, especially if the extreme centre around Biden seeks to team up with the EU elites to reassert their hegemony.

Another relative absence has been that of the radical left, both in Scotland and more widely across Britain. This is not so much a problem for the climate movement as it is for the left itself. Individuals of course took part. A few of the environmental campaigns have left-wing activists centrally involved.

But there was little sense of a political contribution or exchange, much less symbiosis, at least in any positive, organised way. There may be good reasons for this, historical, generational, cultural. But they ought to be addressed, sensitively, and in the first place by the left itself, with a reorientation towards an ecosocialist perspective. Fortunately, these gaps seem to exist far less, if at all, in the Global South.

“A fundamental reckoning with and transformation of our economic, social, and political systems”

In the end, the central message of this reemerging climate movement is one that is, or should be, shared by the left as a whole, and well beyond too. In the words of that Coalition statement [4]:

We are in uncharted waters. The world is on track to breach the carbon budget for 1.5oC global warming well before 2030. Our role in the run-up to COP26 must be to maintain at the forefront of public consciousness what this warming of 1.5oC means: for our lives and for our livelihoods, for the interests of all citizens globally and for the future of our planetary ecosystem. And what it would take to avoid: nothing less than a fundamental reckoning with and transformation of our economic, social, and political systems.


[1] See the website COP26 Coalition.

[2] See COP26 Coalition “Coalition Statement #2: We Are Not All In The Same Boat.

[3] See COP 26 Coalition “All Hands on Deck – From the Ground Up Press Release”.

[4] See COP26 Coalition “Coalition Statement #2: We Are Not All In The Same Boat”.

Iain Bruce is a journalist and eco-socialist activist living in Glasgow. He was formerly Latin America correspondent for IVP. He is author of “The Porto Alegre Alternative: Direct Democracy in Action” (IIRE - International Institute for Research and Education).

Wednesday 25 November 2020

Universal Basic Income: Time for a rethink

Written by Huseyin Kishi

Senior Green Party Politicians proposal would increase poverty according to modelling.

Since 1983 the then Ecology Party, which was to be renamed the Green Party of England and Wales have argued for a National Income Scheme, later renamed the Citizen’s Income in 1990s and more recently known in the 2000s as the Universal Basic Income.[1] [2]In 2020 Jonathan Bartley in Bright Green heralded it as “...only universal and unconditional protection ensures that nobody is left behind.”[3]. Sian Berry opined “Universal basic income has been Green policy since long before I joined the party, and is exactly what it sounds like: a guaranteed income for everyone, replacing benefits in an unconditional way, which is ready and able to take care of your basic needs if a personal crisis hits.”[4]

For Greens it wasn’t a widely discussed policy until 2015, in which it was declared by the Guardian as “...The renewed focus on the cost and feasibility of a citizen’s income, including the way in which it would differ from the government scheme to integrate universal credit, demonstrates the extent to which Green policy is now being taken seriously. “

Baroness Bennett, who recently said in an interview with Green World “A universal basic income, to meet its proper definition, ensures that you can meet all of your basic needs with an income that comes to you simply for being a member of a society – unconditionally.” [5]

An idea whose time has come

For its proponents, it seems as clear as day for its implementation. A radical shift for welfare and the alleviation of poverty and unemployment. They then point to a Finish trial but a press release that was published in 2019 said “The positive evaluation may not relate to basic income as such but to public debate around basic income and to the fact that people were members of a selected group” adding “The Finnish experiment was about partial basic income targeting able-bodied people without work, it was not about universal basic income.” [6]

It did not do anything near what its proponents had argued – despite the positive headline in the New Scientist.[7] For the Green Party, in their 2015 manifesto they state “Scrap most of the existing benefits apart from disability benefits and Housing Benefit. Abolish the income tax personal allowance. Then pay every woman, man and child legally resident in the UK a guaranteed, non-means-tested income, sufficient to cover basic needs – a Basic Income”. [8] They followed this up in their 2019 manifesto by stating that it would be funded by a Carbon tax and additional payments would be made to those with children or were disabled. [9]


Molly Scott Cato said in her article for the Ecologist “...But a basic income would only provide fundamental security and would leave most people on lower incomes than they enjoyed before the crisis.”[10]

Moreover, Caroline Lucas in 2016, though in support of the policy, noted “A universal payment for all must not undermine additional help for those who need it most.[11]  The party’s own consultation paper in 2015 stated “It includes abolishing most existing benefits, abolishing income tax allowances, changing employees’ National Insurance, reducing tax concessions on private pension contributions, and replacing the current contribution-based basic State Pension (for existing pensioners) and the new single-tier flat-rate Pension (for new pensioners) with a non-contributory Citizen’s Pension.” It would still pay housing and disability as additional payments and the total estimated cost was £331 billion.[12]

At the time the Independent noted “The Greens have since admitted that it “would not be practical or right to carry out that change within a single parliament.”[13] Sky News declared “The party says this is a long term ambition rather than concrete policy going into the 2015 election - but the thought of giving millionaires more money is likely to be a voter turn-off.” [14]

Individualism over the collective

There is an established example of an income-subsidy, though means-tested, that provides some economic support. It is called housing benefit and has been place since the 1980s. Sir George Young, the then Minister of State for Housing and Planning, remarked in 1991 that: 

“Housing benefit will underpin market rents-- we have made that absolutely clear. If people cannot afford to pay that market rent, housing benefit will take the strain.” [15]

Housing benefit now costs £22 billion a year and does not lessen the risk of eviction, improve the quality housing, nor the energy, utility and tax costs either. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies notes: 

“...for most working-age people it covers a lower proportion of their actual rent than was the case in the past.”[16]

Housing benefit – far from merely taking the strain when it was believed that the market would later expand for all income-bands – continues to grow and has now become a private landlord subsidy. An aversion to capital spending in housing and the shift to income-subsidy has not resulted in a housing market that competes on price, quality and amenities. More concerning, due to changes in housing benefit from 2011, rather than payment going directly to the landlord payments were paid instead to the tenant, this resulted in landlord arrears.[17]  Rather than benefiting the poorest, over the last three decades it has increased the property portfolios of private landlords according to Shelter.

Returning to universal basic income, In 2015 Baroness Bennett stated in the Guardian that a citizen’s income would be withdrawn when a citizen’s income reached an unspecified level.[18] Milton Friedman, the free-market economist, also agreed with the Green Party in their 2015 and 2019 manifesto, and instead proposed a negative income tax in his book  “Capitalism and Freedom.” Rather than benefits: 

“...he wanted to give poor people cash rather than an array of welfare benefits. People could then use the money as they saw fit”[19]

Likewise, in 2018, the Adam Smith institute proposed “Basic Income would ensure that ‘capitalism and efficient redistribution can be vindicated in equal measure”[20]

Assets over income-subsidy

Senior Greens often refer to UBI as increasing security and choice – but in effect – as was seen with housing benefit; this isn’t guaranteed. In fact, when Joseph Rowntree Foundation undertook modelling of it. They found that

“Those wholly dependent on state support would be neither better nor worse off if a UBI were introduced at the level of the current safety net. Those with modest earnings would benefit most from having the new non-means-tested payment. “ adding that “ is not possible to raise the revenue needed to support them from taxation ­– even by increasing the basic rate to 30% from 20%. The UBI schemes also INCREASE poverty for children, working-age adults and pensioners compared to the current tax-benefit system: child poverty rises by over 60%. [21]“.

Similarly, the New Economics Foundation found “making cash payments to individuals to increase their purchasing power in a market economy is not a viable route to solving problems caused by neoliberal market economics” they also note that  “If cash payments are allowed to take precedence, there’s a serious risk of crowding out efforts to build collaborative, sustainable services and infrastructure”[22]

Senior Greens have stated we need a radical shift in thinking about welfare – but it is clear that universal basic income does not serve progressive ends and in that regard shares more in common with conservative thinkers and supporters of neoliberalism. They should instead look to take a leaf out of Karl Polanyi’s work – who observed that markets are planned as the economy is embedded into society and thus shaped by the state – but there has been previous resistance towards this – with the exclusion of market forces in welfare and housing in the 1940s.[23]

In order to provide unconditional protection while accommodating the most vulnerable. We should move away from the individualist universal basic income and its substantive costs. Instead we should look at the long-term collective and public ownership of universal basic services. Assets such as housing, information and transport would benefit us all.  

More information can be found here: universal_basic_services_-_the_institute_for_global_prosperity_.pdf ( 

Huseyin Kishi is a writer and photographer based in London. He is a member of Sutton & Croydon Green Party



[2]          The Green Party | Social Welfare

[3]          Labour's failure to embrace UBI shows they haven't grasped the scale of the crisis | Jonathan Bartley (

[4]          Sian Berry: This is the time to bring in universal basic income | Hampstead Highgate Express (

[5]          The decade of universal basic income | Green World


[7]          Universal basic income seems to improve employment and well-being | New Scientist

[8]          Green.pdf (

[9]          Green Party Manifesto 2019.pdf

[10]          Coronavirus and the Universal Basic Income (

[11]          The case for a Basic Income is growing | Caroline Lucas

[12]          Basic Income: a detailed proposal (


[14]          How Will Green Party's Medicine Go Down? | Politics News | Sky News 

[15]          House of Commons Hansard Debates for 30 Jan 1991 (

[16]          Doubling of the housing benefit bill is sign of something deeply wrong - Institute For Fiscal Studies - IFS 

[17]          The impact of the direct payment of housing benefit: evidence from Great Britain ( 

[18]          Green party outlines plan for basic citizen’s income for all adults | Politics | The Guardian 

[19]          Negative income tax, explained | MIT Sloan

[20          Rising evidence for universal basic income — Adam Smith Institute 

[21]          Universal Basic Income - not the answer to poverty | JRF

[22]          Universal basic income: new study finds little evidence that it can live up to its promise | New Economics Foundation


Monday 23 November 2020

An Eco-anarchist Revolutionary Strategy

Written by Ted Trainer and Hans Baer and first published at massive

It is with respect to means, or transition strategy, that ecosocialism and my version of ecoanarchism differ most. This is because the kind of society that I argue must replace capitalism differs markedly from that which socialists commonly envisage.

Our previous piece sketched the argument that, in view of the grossly unsustainable state of industrial-affluent-consumer-capitalist society, the revolutionary goal must be a basic social form focused on small scale, highly self-sufficient and self-governing, collectivist and zero-growth communities. They have to be driven by need not profit, and have to abandon a culture focused on individualism, competition and acquisitiveness.

The Simpler Way, and then converting or forcing uncomprehending masses to it. This is hardly worth discussion.

The second path would be via the election to government of a party which had a Simpler Way platform. But that could not happen unless the cultural revolution for a Simpler Way had previously been achieved! If/when it had, changing structures would be a relatively easy consequence of the real revolution. So there’s your focal task here and now, that is, establishing the required worldview, not trying to take state power.

Peter Kropotkin, Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi realized that culture trumps economics and politics. They saw the ultimate revolutionary goal as largely autonomous citizen-run village communities, and these cannot come into existence or function satisfactorily unless their members come to have the required vision, values and dispositions.

Standing Marx on his head

Thus, in a sense, Marx must be stood on his head; the necessary superstructures must be based on a cultural substructure of the right ideas and values. Especially given the current sustainability crisis, the change in ideas and values required for a good society cannot be left until well after the seizure of state power (Marx assumed they could be.) Socialists have the order of revolutionary events around the wrong way.

Important here is the strong case for believing that capitalism is well down the path to self-destruction. The coming disintegration will make it clear that the system will no longer provide for us, and that people will (have to) come across to the emerging local collectivism.

Thus, there is a head-on contradiction here regarding basic strategy. In past revolutions the solution was theoretically simple; take power from the ruling class and then turn up the throttles in the factories to provide more abundance for all.

But now that cannot be the solution. It must be to establish a society with a far smaller gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, without growth, affluence, centralisation, globalisation and, above all, a society driven by radically new ideas, values and dispositions.

Getting this utterly foreign culture sufficiently established is the primary revolutionary task. If and when that’s done, getting rid of what’s left of capitalism will probably be easy and non-violent.

Socialist transition efforts typically go into calling for state-level policy change, such as nationalising key industries, but they do not involve shifting to far simpler localized lifestyles and systems. More importantly, they do not recognize that nothing of much significance can be achieved unless we first bring about widespread and profound change in ideas and values.


What then is to be done? It is to, as anarchists say, prefigure — that is, to focus scarce energies on building aspects of the required alternative here and now.

Socialists usually misunderstand the point of this. It is not based on the assumption that if we just go on adding a community garden here and a poultry co-op there, in time we will have replaced the existing system.

The point of prefiguring is educational: it is to develop illustrative examples of aspects of the new society, and to use these as bases for undermining capitalist ideology. The best way to undermine it is not to fight it head on, but to get people to see: a) that it will not provide for us; and b) how good the ecoanarchist alternative to it could be.

There is now rapidly increasing adoption of this “turning away” and “ignoring capitalism to death” perspective, that is evident among the Zapatistas in Mexico, the Rojavan Kurds, the Transition Towns movement, the global ecovillage network and the 200-million strong campesino movement.

Possibly the most impressive is the Catalan Integral Cooperative, which now involves thousands in building alternative systems, emphatically rejecting having anything to do with the market or the state.

If these initiatives spread they will begin to pressure the existing state apparatus to focus on enabling the towns and suburbs to thrive and will, in time, increasingly push the state aside and transfer more functions into the anarchist political sphere in which federations, delegates and conferences work out proposals to be taken back down to the participatory town assemblies for decision. This would be a process of gradually taking state power.

Friday 20 November 2020

UK Government’s 10 Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution – Same Old Greenwash?


The UK government this week launched its ten point plan for a future greener economy. The name ‘Green Industrial Revolution' is a straight lift from the Labour party’s manifesto at last year’s general election, but differs in some ways. This is a summary of the report with analysis which can be downloaded here.

Point 1: Advancing Offshore Wind

The report says that by 2030, we aim to produce 40GW of offshore wind, including 1GW of innovative floating offshore wind. It goes on to say that this could encourage private investment of £20 billion coming into the UK. Aurora Energy Research (AER), an Oxford-based consultancy, have calculated the UK would need to increase the UK’s offshore wind power capacity by four times what it is today, to reach 40GW by 2030, and cost around £50 billion. On the face, it means the government would need to meet the other £30 billion, which is ambitious given demands on the public purse at present.

This would provide enough ‘power’ for every home in the UK, but it is not clear whether this includes heating, but I don’t think it does, because domestic electricity demand is about a quarter of all energy used in the UK. So, a four-fold increase in offshore wind power suggested by AER, seems not to cover natural gas, which is the main source of heat in UK homes.

Point 2: Driving the Growth of Low Carbon Hydrogen  

Working alongside partners in industry, our aim is for the UK to develop 5GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030, says the report. 5GW is a fairly modest amount of energy, but when I first read the Prime Minister’s piece written for the Financial Times (subscription), where he wrote of producing hydrogen from water, I thought this was about electrolysis. Passing electricity through water is one way of producing hydrogen, but only accounts for about 2-3% of hydrogen produced, the vast majority of which is made from fossil fuels.

There is mention of producing hydrogen by electrolysis in the report, but also of producing low carbon hydrogen at scale will be made possible by carbon capture and storage infrastructure. More on this later, but on producing hydrogen from water, there is a major drawback.

The process of producing hydrogen this way consumes approximately 50 to 55 kilowatt-hours of electricity per kilogram of hydrogen produced, so is a very inefficient and expensive way of producing hydrogen. Presumably the plan is for the electricity to be from renewable sources, but later in the report carbon capture and storage from fossil fuels is admitted. To upscale this type of production from renewable sources would put massive demand on renewables, of which most seems destined for domestic use. Nuclear power also comes into the mix later in the report.

There is also mention in this section of ground heat pump technology, which is quite feasible and should have been encouraged years ago.

Point 3: Delivering New and Advanced Nuclear Power

In this section the report says we are announcing up to £385 million in an Advanced Nuclear Fund. This will enable investment of up to £215 million into Small Modular Reactors to develop a domestic smaller-scale power plant technology design. The processes for mining and refining uranium ore and making reactor fuel all require large amounts of energy. Nuclear power plants also have large amounts of metal and concrete, which require large amounts of energy to manufacture, so are not carbon free, although to a lesser degree, you could say the same about wind and solar power.

There are of course problems with nuclear power, the radioactive toxic waste which is only any use for nuclear weapons, which in itself makes it undesirable, but if stored is prone to leak. We’ve seen a few accidents at plants releasing radiation into the atmosphere and there is also the possibility of terrorist attacks, perhaps increased by lots of smaller plants. They tend to be situated in coastal regions for cooling purposes, but this is risky if the seas rise, if plans like this do not limit global warming. Nuclear plants are very expensive too, with the government intended investment looking quite puny.

Point 4: Accelerating the Shift to Zero Emission Vehicles  

This section announces the banning of sales of petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2030, and that from 2035 only electrically powered (and hybrid) cars and vans will be allowed on the UK’s roads. A consultation will take place on replacing heavy goods trucks. There will be an acceleration in the provision of roadside charging points.

This is good news for air quality in the UK, but the electricity to power these vehicles will need to be produced somewhere, somehow, and it looks likely that this will be produced by nuclear power or fossil fuel burning, although the report does not say that specifically. This will require a huge amount of power, and it is unlikely that this will be able to be provided by wind power, or other renewable energy sources.

 Point 5: Green Public Transport, Cycling and Walking

The report promises we will invest tens of billions of pounds in enhancements and renewals of the rail network, £4.2 billion in city public transport and £5 billion on buses, cycling and walking. Some rail links removed in the Beeching era (post second World War) will be restored as well as new rail links between towns and cities, and bring the level of public transport within cities up to the level of London, which is ahead of the rest of the country.

All welcome again, but there is no specific mention of how these trains and buses will be powered, so again it looks as though this will provided by nuclear power and fossil fuels. Walking and cycling of course needs no external power, and is uncontroversial.

Point 6: Jet Zero and Green Ships

The 5GW of power produced by hydrogen mentioned in Point 2, will clearly not be enough the power all civil aeroplanes and shipping, and military craft are not mentioned at all. The report also mentions electric power, but especially with aircraft batteries, they will need to be so large that the number of passengers on flights will need to be dramatically reduced, making them non cost effective.

Again it looks like if this to have any success, we will be relying nuclear power or fossil fuels. Why there is no mention of that old, tried and trusted method of powering ships, wind, is perplexing? Some ships already use sails in a kind of hybrid system, together with a conventional engine, for when the wind drops.

The report also says that blending ‘greener’ fuels into kerosene, which I take to mean biofuel, produced from vegetable oil or the like. This is certainly feasible but as always with biofuels they compete for land with food production and forestation. There is only so much land to go around.

Point 7: Greener Buildings 

The government will ‘aim’ for the installation of ground heat pump technology of 600,000 units a year up until 2028, but also leaves open the possibility of providing hydrogen or electrical heating to supplement heat pump supplied heating. Building energy efficiency, with better insulation of buildings (homes and other buildings) also features here, but the Green Homes Grant will only be extended by one year.

Other than hydrogen or electrically produced heating, as mentioned previously, and carbon capture and storage, this is easily achievable, and should have been done before now.

Point 8: Investing in Carbon Capture, Usage and Storage  

The report says that the ‘ambition’ is to capture the equivalent of four million cars’ worth of annual emissions, and store it underground. There will be four sites, in Scotland, Wales, the north west and north east of England, but nothing in the south of England. The plan is to use redundant North Sea oil wells as well for the storage of the CO. This is not a huge ambition, given that carbon emitting energy will need to be used to implement the rest of this plan, but is perhaps mindful that this technology has not been deployed on a largescale anywhere in the world.

The technology can capture up to 90% of CO emitted by burning fossil or biofuels. According to the Global CCS Institute’s 2019 Status Report, 40 million metric tons of CO from plants currently in operation or construction are captured and stored each year. So, the UK government target for capturing 10 million metric tons, equates to a quarter of what exists in the whole world at present, but is still modest compared with what will be needed.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is expensive. A plant with CCS uses more fuel than one without, to extract, pump and compress the CO2, as well. There is also the problem of leakage, from the wells, but more so from pipelines that transport the emissions. The most extreme sudden CO release on record took place in 1986 at Lake Nyos, which is a lake naturally saturated with carbon dioxide, in Cameroon.  It suffocated 1,746 people within 25 kilometres of the lake.

In a paper looking at what role negative emissions should play in meeting the Paris goals, the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council, a group made up of all the different national scientific academies in European Union (EU) member states, concluded that the technologies “offer only limited realistic potential to remove carbon from the atmosphere and not at the scale envisaged in some climate scenarios”.

Point 9: Protecting Our Natural Environment 

This section is mainly about planting more trees, for natural carbon capture and building more flood defences. The aim is that 30,000 hectares of new forests a year will be planted.     

The 30,000-hectares figure was laid out by the UK government’s Committee on Climate Change in its net-zero report, which it said equated to planting between 90-120m trees per year.

It concluded increasing forest cover to “at least 17%” of the UK’s land area, together with improved woodland management, that would sequester an additional 14 metric tonnes of CO₂ each year. This figure is based on planting 30,000 hectares annually from 2024.

17% is a big ask for a small overcrowded country like England, so I would expect most of this activity will take place in Scotland and Wales. Estimates vary as to how effective this will be at removing carbon from the atmosphere, but tend to be calculated using mature trees as the model, which obviously take years to grow to that stage.

Point 10: Green Finance and Innovation

This final section of the report focuses on research and development into the other nine points of the plan and will be backed by a £1 billion public investment portfolio. Private investment will be sought by the issuing of a Sovereign Green Bond next year (subject to market conditions).

In a specific mention the report says that the UK aims to be the first country to commercialise fusion energy technology. This technology produces power by using heat from nuclear fusion reactions to produce electricity and can be used to produce hydrogen. Research into fusion reactors began in the 1940s, but to date, no design has produced more fusion power output than the electrical power input, rather defeating the purpose of the exercise.

There is also mention of the City of London exploiting ‘carbon markets’ where emissions are traded around, making a nice profit for the traders, but not reducing emissions significantly, as with EU’s scheme, which is more advanced than any other in the world.

Why now?

The COP26 meeting on climate change will be held in the UK, Glasgow, next November, so this report is aimed at providing the UK with some kind of leadership role at the summit. It is also noticeable that the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has quickly changed horses, after President-Elect Joe Biden’s election win in the US. Johnson was one Donald Trump’s strongest supporters among world leaders, and had little to say against Trump’s climate change denying rhetoric and actions while he was president. The release of this report now is not a coincidence, since the US will probably adopt something similar to this plan.

Some notable omissions from the report are worth mentioning. No mention of banning fracking, when we know that we cannot even burn all of what is left of conventional fossil fuels on the planet. No mention of hydro or wave power, which has potential, particularly wave power for the UK. No mention of future rising demand for energy, which there surely will be. Just one example from the UK is that a space port is planned to be built in Scotland.

This plan is broadly in line with the commitments made by the UK, and other nations at the COP21 meeting in Paris in 2015. The idea of making that agreement was that it would, by and large, allow the world to carry with business as usual. The growth that is required by our economic system, capitalism, needs every increasing levels of energy to power it, so that high levels of economic growth can be maintained. Without this, the system will fall into recession, depression and ultimately die. It is not sustainable, to use an ecological term, but the type of techo-fixes suggested in the UK government’s plan allow for a pretence that it can be.  

There are some sensible measures suggested, things that could have been done many years ago, but don’t be fooled that this will improve our chances of limiting a temperature rise to below 1.5C of pre-industrial levels, which COP21 was meant to achieve. But that was never likely to be met by these type of measures anyway.