Boris Johnson’s pledge last week that the UK government would lead a “green industrial revolution” seemed, to those dispirited by Australia’s broken climate politics, to be a message from another planet, not another hemisphere.
The Conservatives promised £12bn (A$21.8bn) for a 10-point plan to combat the climate crisis, including building enough offshore windfarms to run every home in Britain, installing 600,000 efficient heat pumps a year to replace dirty old heaters, and developing new small nuclear reactors.
The headline-grabber was confirmation that the UK would accelerate the shift to electric vehicles (EVs) by banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030, a decade earlier than previously planned. Johnson promised £2.4bn (A$4.3bn) for grants to lower the cost of EVs, install charging infrastructure across the country and boost the battery manufacturing industry.
Rhapsodising in the Financial Times, the UK prime minister said now was the time to plan for “a green recovery” that would turn the UK into “the world’s number one centre for green technology and finance, creating the foundations for decades of economic growth”. He suggested the plan could spur massive private investment and support 250,000 jobs.
“Imagine Britain when a green industrial revolution has helped to level up the country,” he wrote. “Green and growth can go hand-in-hand. So let us meet the most enduring threat to our planet with one of the most innovative and ambitious programs of job creation we have known.”
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Reaction in Britain was mixed, with some critics saying it didn’t go far enough. While the government was praised for sending an important signal ahead of the country hosting a major international climate conference in Glasgow next year, the Labour opposition described it as “deeply, deeply disappointing” for its lack of ambition. Analyses found it was not enough to put the country on a path to decarbonisation, as Johnson had promised.
Both the ambition and the critical response were light years from the political debate in Australia, where the major parties argue fossil fuel industries will continue for decades and climate action remains primarily framed in terms of the short-term cost.
This contrast is not new. British emissions fell 29% while the economy grew strongly over the past decade, while in Australia they dropped 10% and only a tick more than 2% since the Coalition was elected in 2013.
But the divide is particularly stark on transport and the shift to electric vehicles.
Only 0.6% of new cars sold in Australia are electric. This compares with between 5% and 8% in many comparable countries and about 60% in Norway, a small market that went hard early in backing the technology.
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