Boris - Frit!!?
By Keith Melton & Prof. Keith Barnham
Is this why Boris Johnson avoided the Leaders' Climate Debate?
By Professor Keith Barnham
In the first six months of the 2015 conservative government, published a paper in Nature Materials with colleagues from Germany and Italy showing that, had the subsidy policies of previous governments been continued by the new administration, the UK could have had an all-renewable electric power supply by 2025. This would have been secure 24/7, 52 weeks of the year and UK carbon emissions would have fallen dramatically. Sadly, the new government ensured this would not happen by cutting subsidies and other measures. With climate change comparable with Brexit as a major concern, particularly among young voters, a thorough discussion of the conservative record on energy policy should have been an appropriate feature of this election. This has not happened, mainly thanks to Boris Johnson's decision to avoid the Leaders' Climate Debate.
To rectify this, I speculate below on the way that the discussion about Johnson's participation might have progressed. It is of course fictional, but the data referred to can be found on the government websites below the dialogue.
"Sorry Boris! I've got some bad news. I suggest you avoid the leaders' climate debate."
"Why on earth……? I was looking forward to being a TV panellist again. Remember how good I was
guesting on Have I got news for you?"
"Before my time. I did just what you asked me. I got civil servants to look out some headline numbers to support your line 'I am proud that the government in which I served had the greenest energy policy ever'. I've just got their report. Problem is, the numbers say the opposite!"
"No problem. Invent a few numbers. That worked for the referendum."
"Not this time…it's a debate! Every number in this report is on a government website. Chances are the other leaders' advisors will have primed them with the correct figures."
"Well, let's give it a go. Remind me what Dave and Teresa's energy policy was?"
"That Ruddy woman spelt it out in 2015……highest priority to nuclear and natural gas."
"Well they will be popular with voters won't they?"
"Nope! Apparently BEIS takes regular surveys of public opinion on electricity generation. Nuclear is well below 40% approval. Fracking has dipped below 15% recently. That is why I insisted on a moratorium during the election. Remember?"
"At least they are low carbon?"
"Sadly not. I'm sure the Greens are aware that academics have shown nuclear and fracking have carbon footprints above the Committee for Climate Change's recommendation for all electricity generation by 2030. Fracking is around 10 times higher than the limit."
"OK, I get your point. So why don't I talk about my plans for something more voter friendly?
What is the most popular form of electricity generation?"
"Solar panels…always 80% approval or above according to BEIS."
"How did Dave and Theresa do on solar?"
"Cut it severely, the idiots. It says here solar expanded at an average 76% a year under the Coalition…….b****y Lib-Dems! Cameron and May managed….oops…..less than 5% a year."
"Not a good look. Could we hide that, if I present headline figures on plans
for the expansion of all the renewables?"
"Hang on…..I saw that somewhere. Renewable electricity generation expanded 7 times in 10 years under Labour and the Coalition. Dave and Theresa both planned that renewable expansion should not even double in the next 20 years."
"OK. Let's try a completely different approach. How about I present the great idea I had while drinking with an old
buddy from the Bullingdon recently. He said farmers on his estate were into a nice little number selling their
crop waste and bullshit to be turned into low-carbon electricity by anaerobic indigestion or something
like that. That would be popular with our farming base. They will need some good news when we
get Brexit done and they lose their EU subsidies."
"I've got figures on electricity from anaerobic digestion too. It rose 39% a year under the Coalition and only 6% from 2016 to 2018. Even worse, I heard on the grapevine that Labour have a properly worked out policy for supporting what they call Green Gas. We mustn't give Corbyn the chance to look good."
"OK. You win! Think up a good excuse and get Gove to do it.
I still owe him for knifing me before the previous leadership election."
All-renewable UK electricity supply by 2025
Keith Barnham, Kaspar Knorr, Massimo Mazzer, "Recent progress towards all-renewable
electricity supplies", Nature Materials, 15, 115, (2016).
"Ruddy woman's" speech:
Amber Rudd, Secretary of State for Energy, "Amber Rudd's speech on a new direction for UK energy policy", 18-11-2015
BEIS surveys of public opinion:
BEIS Public Attitudes Tracker Wave 30, 18th July 2019
Carbon footprint of nuclear and fracking:
D.Nugent & B.Sovacool, Energy Policy 65, 229-244 (2014)
Expansion of PV, renewable energy and AD:
BEIS Energy Trends renewable electricity capacity and generation (ET 6.1) 26th September 2019
Cameron government's future reference scenario:
Department of Energy and Climate Change, "DECC Updated Energy & Emissions Projections - November 2015, Annex L Total Electricity Generating Capacity"
May government's future reference scenario:
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, "BEIS 2016 updated energy and emissions projections, Annex I, Major power producers' total electricity generating capacity", 26-1-2017,