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Boris Johnson doesn’t get climate change, says sacked COP 26 chair | Environment


Boris Johnson has shown a “huge lack of leadership and engagement” over the UK’s hosting of the COP 26 global climate change conference and admitted he does not understand the issue, according to Claire O’Neill, the sacked head of the summit.

The former minister, who was leading efforts to hold the COP gathering of world leaders in Glasgow in November, said the UK was “playing at Oxford United levels when we really need to be Liverpool” in terms of the effort to tackle climate change.

O’Neill was dismissed by Johnson’s key adviser, Dominic Cummings, on Friday and has since sent a letter to the prime minister saying the UK is “miles off track” and that promises of action “are not close to being met”.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “we are miles off track globally where we are meant to be” and there has been a “huge lack of leadership and engagement” from the current administration.

She said her job had been a “lonely place” and that Johnson had “admitted to me he doesn’t really understand it”, although others around him did. O’Neill said the cabinet sub-committee on the climate conference had not met since it formed in October.

She also described problems with the choice of Glasgow as the host city, with spiralling costs and disputes between the UK and Scottish governments.

“The playground politics – the yah boo politics – has got to stop,” she said.

On the prime minister personally, she said: “My advice to anybody to whom Boris is making promises – whether it is voters, world leaders, ministers, employees or indeed, to family members – is to get it in writing, get a lawyer to look at it and make sure the money is in the bank.”

In her letter to Johnson, O’Neill suggested his personal animosity towards Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, was endangering the success of the summit and claimed the prime minister was considering relocating the event to an English location because of “ballooning costs”.

Her comments will embarrass the prime minister on the day he holds a reception to launch COP 26 with the broadcaster David Attenborough.

In his speech on Tuesday, Johnson will outline new measures including a ban on sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles being brought forward to 2035.

He will also urge other countries to follow the UK’s lead in setting targets to cut their emissions to net zero, with major cuts to greenhouse gases and any remaining pollution being offset by measures such as planting trees.

Addressing O’Neill’s criticisms, Michael Gove, the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, defended the government, saying it was setting ambitious goals and urging other countries to follow its lead.

He told BBC Radio 5 live that Johnson does get climate change.

“I’ve known the PM for more than 30 years and the first time I met him he told me he was a green Tory,” he said.

Johnson wants to use COP 26 to showcase the UK’s advances in renewable energy, clean technology and electric vehicles, and the power of the City of London as a global financial centre to pour billions into the switch to a low-carbon economy.

The UK is one of the first countries to pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. However, activists have said the government lacks a clear plan for reaching net zero, and few new measures have been announced since the target was enshrined in law by Theresa May last summer.

Johnson will face an uphill task in persuading major countries such as China, India and the US to renew their emissions-cutting pledges under the 2015 Paris agreement.

The last UN climate talks ended in December amid fractious scenes and a failure to compromise on key issues. Several countries seem determined to block progress, including Brazil and Saudi Arabia. The US, under Donald Trump, is in the process of withdrawing from the Paris agreement, a move which will take legal effect just days before COP 26 starts, and the day after the US presidential election.

Johnson also suffered a major mis-step and accusations of hypocrisy at the recent UK-Africa summit, where he pledged to stop UK investment in coal in Africa. There has been no such investment by the UK since 2002, but at the summit deals were signed for nearly £2bn investment in African oil and gas.

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