How Britain's 'Green Revolution' Compares to the Rest of the World

The United Kingdom has set out its path to net-zero carbon emissions with a new plan to tackle climate change while creating up to 250,000 "green" jobs for British workers.

The £12 billion ($15.9 billion) 10-point plan, launched by Prime Minister Boris Johnson ahead of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2021 has been labeled a Green Industrial Revolution by the government.

Johnson promises to invest in the U.K.'s industrial heartlands, creating thousands of jobs for people in the North East, Yorkshire, West Midlands, Scotland, and Wales - all seen as part of his attempt to "level-up" areas of the U.K. that feel they have been left behind by Westminster.

The prime minister's new plan will, among other things, aim to take petrol and diesel vehicles off the road by 2030 and invest in zero-emission public transport, harness greener energy sources like offshore wind, hydrogen, and nuclear energy, and protect nature by planting 30,000 hectares of trees every year.

Johnson hopes a commitment to "build back green" after COVID will help him connect with leaders around the world and encourage investment in British industry, which will be vital for the future of the U.K. after Brexit.

But how far does Johnson's plan go, and how does it compare to climate commitments made across the globe?

Announcing his plan, the prime minister said 2020 "has taken a very different path to the one we expected" but that he has not "lost sight of our ambitious plans to level up across the country".

A ban on petrol and diesel cars means that in the future, all drivers will need to buy electric vehicles and charging points - incurring huge upfront costs. Honda Europe's senior vice-president Ian Howells said: "An approach that relies only on expensive electric cars risks turning driving into a privilege only afforded to the wealthy."

Business Secretary Alok Sharma denied that the plan cuts out millions of people who cannot afford to buy and power electric cars, pointing to government funding of £1.3 billion ($1.7 billion) to install charge points in homes, streets and on motorways across England, and £582 million ($772 million) in grants for those buying zero or ultra-low emission cars.

British environmentalist Jonathan Porritt said that aside from transport, the government's 10-point plan contains an "awful lot of bluster, without a lot of substance" while Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said the phase-out of diesel and petrol cars was "certainly good news", but that "essentially there is nothing like enough boldness and urgency in the package." She told Sky News: "I don't think we have the ambition that is necessary for this moment."

Extinction Rebellion activists march through London
Climate change activists from the Extinction Rebellion group march through London calling for the environment not to be forgotten during the pandemic Niklas Halle'n/Getty

In the U.S.

Johnson isn't the only one promising to "build back better" after the pandemic, with President-elect Joe Biden also using the phrase to introduce his plan for a Green New Deal.

Biden is proposing a $2 trillion investment in clean energy to create carbon-free electricity by 2035 and meet net-zero emissions no later than 2050. It has been hailed the most ambitious climate agenda ever adopted by a U.S. president and promises to create millions of jobs.

The president-elect has vowed to immediately rejoin the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, the international pact to limit global heating to well below 2C which Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of in 2017.

During his presidential campaign, senior officials said the Green New Deal would be paid for through a mix of tax increases on corporations and the wealthy, and deficit spending aimed at stimulating the economy.

The Biden climate plan includes investments in improving energy efficiency in buildings and housing as well as promoting the production of electric vehicles and conservation efforts in the agriculture industry.

It also includes a requirement that 40 percent of the money spent on clean energy deployment, reduction of legacy pollution, and other investments go to historically disadvantaged communities. He vowed to lead an international effort to have every major country increase their emission-reduction targets.

In France

When Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement in 2017, French President Emmanuel Macron poked fun by vowing to "make our planet great again."

He was only months into his presidency and has since attempted to brand France as the world leader in fighting climate change. But, according to a report from June 2019, France is falling behind on tackling the climate emergency despite ambitious promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The French government has set the same target as the U.K. and U.S. to be net-zero by 2050 and Macron has tried to encourage other European nations to aim for the same target. In July, the government laid out the first package of 146 measures to reduce the country's carbon emissions including a plan to ban outdoor heaters at French bars and restaurants, protect 30 percent of France's land surface from development, and renovate old buildings to make them more energy-efficient.

The measures were submitted by 150 members chosen at random from a Citizen's Convention on Climate that Macron set up last year in response to "yellow vest" anti-government protests. France has earmarked about €30 billion ($35 billion) for environmental spending.

A polluted day in Beijing October 2020
A polluted day in Beijing, China, in October 2020 Greg Baker/Getty

In Germany

Germany goes further than the U.K. and France, setting aside €50 billion ($59 billion) for environmental spending. The country's Climate Action Plan 2050 was adopted by the German government in 2016, making it one of the first countries in the world to commit to cutting its greenhouse gas emissions over the long-term.

Earlier this year, the country submitted a ten-year energy and climate plan to the European Union following a target set by the European Commission for a tougher 2030 emissions goal for the bloc.

Germany's long-term goal is to become largely greenhouse gas-neutral by 2050, cutting emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030. The plan focuses on energy, buildings, transport, trade and industry, agriculture, and forestry, with specific measures including a requirement for new buildings to be zero-energy from 2021 onwards, and by 2050 upgrading existing buildings through energy efficiency measures so that they too meet the standards of being virtually climate-neutral.

In China

China is the world's biggest polluter, with its carbon emissions 27 times greater than the U.K., according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a U.S. non-profit organization.

China, with a population of 1.4 billion people, has CO2 emissions per capita of 7.2 tonnes, not far off Britain's 5.8 and well below the U.S. figure of 15.5.

Leaders in China are taking climate change increasingly seriously, investing more than any country in renewable energy and its electric car industry. The country has publicly pledged to be carbon neutral by 2060, which is not the same as "climate neutral" which refers to all greenhouse gases.

China's emissions are expected to peak by 2030, the point at which many other countries are hoping to be reducing their emissions year-on-year.