Boris Johnson has made big promises of late about going green. He laid out grand plans for increasing UK wind power on 6 October. That followed his highly publicised pledge last week, along with a number of other world leaders, to tackle the biodiversity crisis.
In one sentence at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on 7 October, however, Johnson made a complete mockery of his newfound green credentials.
Chesham and Amersham MP Cheryl Gillan posed a question at PMQs. Acknowledging Johnson’s wind power announcement, which is the first part of an expected 10-point plan from the government for a “green industrial revolution”, Gillan asked:
Would my right honourable friend agree with me that the merits of his green economy proposal extend far beyond energy production, and also include the preservation of our green spaces?
Johnson responded, saying his government was “committed to protecting” certain green spaces. He also commented:
I hope my right honourable friend will also acknowledge – or I hope she knows – that this government is also leading the way globally in protecting biodiversity, in protecting habitats, in protecting species
But as the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas pointed out, this government is not ‘leading the way’ in protecting biodiversity. On the contrary, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) recently calculated that the UK has missed 17 out of 20 biodiversity targets it set a decade ago:
Prime Minister really needs to be better briefed
World leaders in biodiversity? Government has missed 17 out of 20 of its own biodiversity targets, and gone backwards on 6 of them#PMQs
— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) October 7, 2020
Rhetoric vs reality
In its report on the biodiversity failures, the RSPB noted that the government has “expressed its ambition to be a global leader in the fight to save nature”. But it said that:
to be credible, the UK will need to show precisely how it plans to fill the gap between rhetoric and reality in its own backyard.
This gap between rhetoric and reality is vast. Johnson, for example, signed the aforementioned Leaders’ Pledge for Nature to tackle the biodiversity crisis. He also took to Twitter ahead of the UN Biodiversity Summit on 1 October, calling for “concerted, co-ordinated, global action” to protect our “diverse” and “wondrous” world. But, at the same time, his government has rolled out yet another huge badger cull. Badger Trust CEO Dominic Dyer says Johnson is now “pressing ahead with the largest destruction of a protected species in history”.
Conservationists also say that UK bloodsports, such as game bird shooting, are putting the country’s climate, species and ecosystems under serious threat. Johnson’s government allows the practice to continue and has even exempted hunters and grouse shooters from coronavirus (Covid-19) restrictions so they can carry on killing.
The finer details
Johnson’s wind power announcement is another case in point. He’s promised to make the UK a “world leader in low-cost clean power generation”, with offshore wind “powering every home in the country” in 10 years’ time. The PM said his government will invest £160m to kickstart the plan. Though many welcomed Johnson’s newfound commitment to a green energy future, they did question the finer details. The Green Party’s Jonathan Bartley said:
the level of investment proposed by the prime minister is nowhere near matching his rhetoric. The £160m for wind power due to be announced today falls far short of the £48bn that analysts say is necessary.
Lest we forget, the UK government is also heavily investing in fossil fuel projects globally, even as it’s making green promises at home.
Time to get real
To tackle the immense challenges that the climate and biodiversity crises present, two things are essential. We need to understand the scale and intricacies of the issues and we need to be real about the part we play in them. Only then can we set about making the necessary changes to tackle the crises at hand.
Global bodies, scientists, and civil society are doing a sterling job of trying to make the scale of the crises crystal clear. But leaders like Johnson aren’t getting real about the role their decisions and countries play in those emergencies. That’s a serious impediment to progress.
Just repeating that you’re a ‘world leader’ in things doesn’t make it true. In fact, politicians who offer little but empty rhetoric amid emergencies of this scale show that they’re not suited to leadership at all.
Featured image via ITV News / YouTube
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