Addressing the U.N. General Assembly, Johnson said: “I don’t see the green movement as a pretext for a wholesale assault on capitalism. Far from it.”
The group staged prolonged demonstrations in April and October 2019 and September 2020, when protesters blocked entrances, halted traffic, glued themselves to buildings and roads, defaced a statue of Britain’s wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and disrupted newspaper printing.
UK Home Secretary Priti Patel described the group as “so-called eco-crusaders turned criminals,” and the London Metropolitan Police said last month more than £50 million ($68 million) had been spent on policing Extinction Rebellion protests since 2019.
Earlier this month, activists from Insulate Britain, another campaign group, shut down parts of the M25—the UK’s busiest motorway—five times in just over a week.
But Johnson suggested that the activists’ anti-capitalist message is misguided, arguing that capitalism and free markets can actually help cut emissions.
“The whole experience of the COVID pandemic is that the way to fix the problem is through science and innovation, the breakthroughs and the investment that are made possible by capitalism and by free markets, and it is through our Promethean faith in new green technology that we are cutting emissions in the UK,” he said.
To cut emissions, the U.N. has urged wealthy countries to end the use of coal power by 2030, and the rest of the world should do so by 2040.
Johnson said this is an “ambitious” target but “the experience of the UK shows that it can be done.”
“When I was a kid we produced almost 80 percent of our electricity from coal; that is now down to 2 percent or less and will be gone altogether by 2024,” he said.
Johnson said last year that the UK has got “huge, huge gusts of wind” and he wanted to turn the country into the “Saudi Arabia of wind power.”
But earlier this month, the UK was forced to fire up a coal power plant to ensure electricity supply, as low winds prevented the country’s wind farms from generating as much power as expected.
The power plant—West Burton A—is energy firm EDF’s only remaining coal-fired power station. In March, the company announced it had decided to decommission the plant in September 2022.
At the time, EDF said it was “the right time” to make the decision “in this key year for UK leadership on climate change.”
Lily Zhou contributed to this report.