With the right finance, Britain can lead the world to a greener future, says Boris Johnson.
By the time you read these words I will be airborne to Copenhagen. Why, you may ask, am I going to the climate change summit? Is it really worth discharging yet more greenhouse gases into the upper air?
As for the validity of the summit itself, I believe that it is of crucial importance for the world. We have a real chance to agree new targets for reducing CO2 emissions – and to bring in countries such as China and India which were, insanely, omitted from the Kyoto protocol. We also have a chance to do something about the politics of global warming, which are in danger of going seriously wrong. We won’t win this argument with the public, we won’t get people to change their lives, we won’t succeed in cutting CO2 if we continue to rely on a diet of unremitting gloom. It is time for a change in the psychological approach.
Boris concedes that: “There is no doubt that humanity faces a risk of environmental catastrophe. Indeed, in many ways it is already happening. We are replicating too fast, hurtling towards nine billion souls on the planet like bacteria multiplying on a Petri dish. We are destroying habitats and species at an unprecedented and unforgivable rate. In continuing to rely on fossil fuels, we risk – according to the overwhelming majority of scientific opinion – an appalling rise in temperature.
But there is something about human beings that means we are hard-wired to ignore these intimations of mortality. Do you remember poor Ricky Ray Rector, the half-wit murderer who was executed in Arkansas in 1992? As is customary on Death Row, Ricky Ray was given a splendid last meal topped off with pecan pie. As he rose to take his farewell from the world, he told his guards that he hadn’t finished the pecan pie but would “save it for later”. That, I am afraid, is us.
With part of our minds, we may accept that we are in mortal danger. But we find it very hard to make the full imaginative leap. We may be told by thousands of scientists and environmentalists that we are about to fry – and we may be able to understand the case they make – but some deep instinct none the less urges us to believe, inductively, that things will go on more or less as they are. That is why the polls show such an amazingly obstinate public refusal to accept the reality of global warming. That is why there is still a market for thermoscepticism of all kinds.
The other day I stood on the roof of a fire station in Ilford. It is not an architectural jewel. You will not find it in Pevsner. But, in its way, it is one of the most inspiring and uplifting buildings in London. By “retrofitting” that fire station – installing solar panels, transformers, insulation and other humdrum modifications – the fire brigade has cut the building’s energy use by more than 40 per cent.
We have similarly retrofitted 42 public buildings across London, and already – on those buildings alone – we have saved £1 million in energy costs to the taxpayer. This success has, I believe, vital implications for our strategy. In a world in which people live increasingly in cities, and where cities produce the vast majority of CO2, we can only tackle emissions if we deal with the 70 per cent of CO2 that comes from buildings. We will only persuade firms and individuals to retrofit their buildings to reduce energy consumption if we can show that it is in their financial interest.
As you can tell from the example of the 42 London buildings we have just done, there are big savings to be made. After less than eight years, we will have recouped all our investment. But there are also big upfront costs. Where do you go when you have big upfront costs but the prospect of good financial returns? You go to a bank. There is a huge opportunity here, for banks to securitise these investments in such a way as to yield a profit for themselves and for the firm/householder. There is the chance to generate thousands of “green-collar” jobs in improving London’s ageing buildings. There is the opportunity to make deep cuts in the single biggest source of CO2 emissions; and if the banks work faster, and help to devise the necessary financial instruments, there is the chance for them to redeem themselves in the eyes of the general public.
There is also the chance for Britain to lead the world. We often moan that we are lagging in this or that. This is the moment to lead in lagging itself.”
You can read this full article in The Daily Telegraph