History will judge leaders who fail to show ‘courage’ on climate, warns Boris Johnson

PM did not name any specific countries in speech, but it was clear his words were aimed at countries like Japan and Russia

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Monday 20 September 2021 19:40
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<p>‘When the summit ends, it will be clear to all which of us has lacked the courage to step up’ </p>

‘When the summit ends, it will be clear to all which of us has lacked the courage to step up’

Joe Biden looks set to throw Boris Johnson a lifeline on his faltering preparations for November’s climate change summit in Glasgow, with a significant announcement on finance for developing countries.

Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry said the US is ready to “play its part” on a $100bn (£73.2bn) fund and signalled that the president would have more to say in his address to the United Nations general assembly on Tuesday, hours before he meets Mr Johnson in the White House.

The prime minister issued a warning to the leaders of the world’s biggest economies on Monday that history will judge them harshly if they fail to deliver on climate change at the crucial Cop26 summit.

Addressing a top-level meeting on the margin of the general assembly in New York, the prime minister voiced “frustration” that some of the world’s richest economies have failed to come good on demands to cut carbon emissions and fund the $100bn-a-year drive to help developing countries adapt.

OECD figures showed last week that only $79.6bn (£58bn) was mobilised by richer countries in 2019 - 2 percentage points up from the previous year but still well short of the target set in 2009 which was due to be reached last year.

But Mr Kerry said: “I think we are going to get it done by Cop and the US will do its part. Stay tuned into the president’s speech and we will see where we are.”

Cop26 president Alok Sharma, who spoke to Kerry in New York, was visibly delighted by the envoy’s comments, telling reporters: “If it is an ambitious announcement, that is obviously going to help to spur others on as well and help us move forward.

“A good announcement from the US will make a big difference in terms of getting us over the line.”

Mr Johnson - who this week warned the chances of success at Glasgow were as low as six out of 10 - said it was time for leaders of rich world to “grow up and take our responsibilities”.

“When the summit ends, when most of the world has committed to decisive, game-changing action, it will be clear to all which of us has lacked the courage to step up,” he said.

Those who try to “do the minimum” on climate change will be “complicit” in the fate of poorer nations which fall victim to extreme weather as the planet heats, and they will not escape the same problems themselves, he warned.

The PM did not name any specific countries in his speech, but it was clear his words were aimed at countries like Japan and Russia which have failed to sign up to improved commitments on emission reductions, as well as Brazil, where widespread burning of the Amazon rainforest has contributed to global warming.

He has held back from criticising the world’s biggest emitter China – which has put off its net-zero commitment until 2060 and is still building new coal-fired power stations – saying only that Beijing “shows real signs of making progress”. President Xi Jinping has yet to confirm whether he will join scores of world leaders at Glasgow, though Mr Sharma made clear the invitation will remain open to the last minute.

Speaking in New York today, Mr Johnson had a blunt message for leaders who have limited themselves to making “low-hanging fruit” pledges on climate, rather than following the UK in cutting out coal, increasing contributions to the $100bn fund and bringing forward deadlines for ending petrol vehicle production and hitting net-zero.

When the climate emergency is discussed in international forums, “everyone nods and we all agree that something must be done”, he said.

“But I’m increasingly frustrated that the ‘something’ to which many of you have committed is nowhere near enough.”

The gulf between what has been promised and delivered and what needs to be done remains “vast” and too many major economies are “lagging too far behind”, said the prime minister.

He hailed new commitments from Denmark and Sweden, but added: “Tinkering around the edges, simply denuding the tree of its lowest fruit, simply won’t achieve the change the planet needs.”

The meeting heard moving testimony from leaders of low-lying island countries like Barbados and Antigua & Barbuda about the havoc already affecting their homelands.

And Mr Johnson warned that countries which fail to assist them will reap the consequences in future.

“In the years to come, the only great powers will be green powers,” he said.

“If you abdicate responsibility today, do you think those who pay the price for that decision will rally to your side tomorrow?

“These countries need allies. They need help now… To be merely a bystander is to be complicit in their fate – yet that is exactly what you will be if you fail to act this year.”

For developing countries, net-zero should not mean foregoing the benefits of fossil-fuel energy, but “leapfrogging the outdated methods of yesteryear” to go straight to the “cheaper, cleaner, cutting edge technology that will power the 21st century”, like solar and wind, said Mr Johnson.

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