Bicycles and bluster: Boris Johnson, wannabe prime minister

The notoriously ambitious London mayor says he will run for parliament, but where does he stand on climate change?

London mayor Boris Johnson plans to run for parliament in 2015 (Pic: Flickr/BackBoris)

London mayor Boris Johnson plans to run for parliament in 2015
(Pic: Flickr/BackBoris)

By Megan Darby

When people speculate about the next leader of the UK’s Conservative Party, Boris Johnson’s name is never far from their lips.

The London mayor has now confirmed he will “in all probability” stand for parliament in the 2015 general election – a necessary first step towards leadership.

He insisted it was “highly unlikely” he would seek to replace prime minister David Cameron in the top job as there was “no vacancy”.

Yet according to the Daily Mail, an invaluable ally to any politician, Johnson has a team of supporters and a rich backer.

Win or lose, the flaxen-haired maverick always attracts more than his fair share of publicity.

So what does this prime ministerial hopeful have to offer on climate change and environmental issues?

Well, his grasp on the basic science is a bit shaky.

In January 2013, Johnson mused in the Daily Telegraph that snowy weather might herald a mini-ice age, casting doubt on climate change.

He relied, not for the first time, on the theories of Piers Corbyn, a self-proclaimed meteorologist who has never published a peer-reviewed scientific paper.

In defiance of the scientific consensus, Corbyn claims the world is cooling, not warming. He offers weather forecasts up to 12 months in advance, based on his unique method of measuring solar activity.

Corbyn is a regular on the climate sceptic circuit, popping up at a parliamentary meeting last month to demonstrate his theories with the help of an inflatable beach ball.

Johnson’s columns came heavily caveated, making it hard to tell if he believed in what he said or was just trying to provoke a reaction – which he certainly did.

With a remarkable lack of concern for the accuracy of the methods he is promoting, Johnson writes of Corbyn: “Is he barmy? Of course he may be just a fluke-artist.”

Exasperated, the scientifically literate pointed out that weather is not climate and Corbyn’s ideas are not backed by evidence.

On questioning by London assembly member Jenny Jones, of the Green Party, Johnson admitted he “didn’t know” Corbyn had never been peer-reviewed (see video).

So much for what Johnson has said; what has he done as mayor?

The London Assembly Environment Committee last month gave him a paltry four out of 10 for effort.

He is set to miss goals on insulating old buildings and getting energy from local sources, the committee found.

Johnson fared better on energy efficiency of new buildings and cutting traffic.

His office said he was “committed to reducing carbon emissions” and already carrying out many of the report’s recommendations.

In April, he launched a small electricity supplier to sell generation from combined heat and power schemes.

He has promised a “cycling revolution” – championing a green mode of transport.

A “passionate cyclist”, Johnson tends to get the credit for a London cycle hire scheme that launched in 2010, during his term.

Popularly dubbed “Boris bikes”, the hire cycles were actually conceived by his Labour predecessor, Ken Livingstone.

Johnson increased funding for cycling to £1 billion over 10 years and introduced “cycle superhighways”.

On the other hand, one of his first acts as mayor was to scrap a congestion charge on motorists in a wealthy area of west London.

Sonia Purnell, Johnson’s biographer, accused him of favouring gas-guzzling motorists in her 2012 investigation Pedal Power: How Boris Johnson Failed London’s Cyclists.

Boris Johnson is often photographed on a bike, but prioritises motor traffic in London (Pic: Flickr/Capita Symonds)

Boris Johnson is often photographed on a bike, but prioritises motor traffic in London (Pic: Flickr/Capita Symonds)

London is in breach of EU air quality standards and Johnson refused to appear at a parliamentary inquiry into the problem.

He was dismissive of concerns about air pollution after Oxford Street recorded the highest levels of nitrogen oxide in Europe last month.

Last year, Johnson announced his intention to create an “ultra low emissions zone” that would be a “game-changer” on air quality.

Since then, his office has gone quiet on the subject, instead proposing a £10 charge on diesel vehicles, which produce higher levels of pollutants than petrol cars.

There are green influences in Johnson’s high-powered family.

His father Stanley has published 10 books on environmental issues and has held high-powered green roles in Brussels. His younger brother Leo is a sustainability consultant at PwC.

How deep their influence runs with the Johnson family’s brightest star is unclear, but as he moves back into national politics, there will likely be tougher scrutiny on a politician who never fails to amuse, but is often accused of failing to deliver.

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