20 pledges for 2020: The impact of climate change is damning, but apparently Boris Johnson still ‘doesn’t get it’

This year, deputy political editor Rob Merrick will be holding Boris Johnson to account over the climate crisis

Rob Merrick
Friday 07 February 2020 17:15 GMT
Boris Johnson is set to lay out the UK position over trade talks with the EU
Boris Johnson is set to lay out the UK position over trade talks with the EU (Downing Street)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


I suggested before that Boris Johnson is ducking the enormous and vital challenge of hosting an international summit to curb climate change — and now that is plain for all to see.

The last few weeks have laid bare how the government is failing in its preparations for ‘Cop26’ in Glasgow, in November, and The Independent has been at the forefront of exposing that.

First, I revealed how green campaigners reacted with bemusement and alarm to a claim by the prime minister that appeared to betray his misunderstanding of what the event can actually achieve.

My ears pricked up when Mr Johnson told the Commons it would pile pressure on “the whole world” to agree “enforceable limits” on carbon emissions.

As I suspected, and the campaigners confirmed, there is no prospect of legally-binding CO2 cuts in Glasgow, where leaders will simply be urged to beef-up existing voluntary reductions.

The 2015 Paris Agreement, on which the summit is meant to build, put no mandatory limits on fossil fuel production — which one might expect the prime minister to understand.

In the same vein, at the “strategy launch” for the summit, we found experts scratching their heads when he claimed the world would have electric planes “within a couple of years”.

In fact, as was pointed out, electric planes even on short-haul flights are many, many years away. Sadly, Mr Johnson rushed out without taking any questions......

That was because, a few hours earlier, his “strategy” had been savaged by the intended president of the summit, who had been dramatically and mysteriously sacked a few days before.

Claire O’Neill, a former Conservative energy minister, made the top of every newslist when she attacked the “playground politics” undermining the event, which was also “hundreds of millions of pounds off track”.

Claire Perry O’Neill (
Claire Perry O’Neill ( (Getty)

The government tried to hit back with a headline-grabbing announcement to ban new petrol and diesel vehicles five years earlier than planned, in 2035.

But, as I reported, that will still be five years later than recommended by the independent committee on climate change — and it was quickly clear that there is no action plan to deliver even the 2035 date.

“He has admitted to me he doesn’t really understand it [climate change] — he doesn’t really get it,” Ms O’Neill said of Mr Johnson, her former friend, twisting the knife.

With just nine months to go to the “last chance to save the planet”, few people were arguing with her.

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