Boris Johnson has admitted he has no more than a six in 10 chance of getting the breakthrough agreement needed at the Glasgow Cop26 climate emergency summit to avoid catastrophic rises in global temperatures.
The prime minister gave the gloomy assessment as he arrived in New York for a last-ditch effort to get the process back on track with just six weeks to go to the UK-hosted gathering, when he hopes to agree action to keep warming within 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
He warned bluntly that some major economies “need to do much more” if Glasgow is to succeed in moving forward the ambitious programme of emission reduction agreed in Paris in 2015.
At a meeting co-hosted by United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres on the fringe of the UN general assembly, Mr Johnson will be joined either virtually or in-person by political leaders from China and Brazil – viewed as two of the biggest obstacles to effective action – as well as some of the nations most vulnerable to the effects of global warming.
He will repeat his “coal, cars, cash” mantra as he urges fellow leaders to phase out carbon-emitting coal power generation, make the switch to electric vehicles and make good on a 2009 pledge to provide $100bn a year to help developing countries cut emissions and adapt to a warmer planet.
But asked to assess his chances of success, he told reporters travelling on his official Voyager plane to the US: “Getting it all this week is going to be a stretch. But I think getting it all done by Cop? Six out of 10.
“It’s going to be tough, but people need to understand that this is crucial for the world.”
Just 42 days ahead of the November summit, many major countries are yet to fulfil commitments to improve on nationally determined contributions (NDCs) towards global emission reductions agreed in Paris.
China’s promise to bring its emissions to a peak before 2030 and become carbon-neutral by 2060 is regarded by many analysts as insufficient at a time when the world’s biggest carbon emitter is planning to build 43 new coal-fired power plants and 18 new blast furnaces.
And Brazil’s president Jair Bolsanaro stands accused of accelerating warming by allowing vast areas of the Amazon rainforest to be burnt and logged.
Asked if he will tell Mr Bolsanaro when they meet that the clearance of rainforests must stop, Mr Johnson said: “Yes. We want to stop and reverse the global loss of biodiversity, including in the rainforest.
“I think it is in the long-term interests of Brazil and the people of Brazil to recognise the spectacular natural endowment that they have and to conserve it and I am sure that president Bolsanaro agrees with that.”
By the time they arrive in Glasgow, all countries need to have committed to larger NDC pledges and demonstrated that they are ready to make “very considerable progress” on cutting emissions by 2030, said Mr Johnson.
“Some countries are really stepping up to the plate, others – including some G20 countries – need to do much more. We’ll be making that argument and setting that out strongly in the next few days.”
Asked how he would persuade Beijing to improve its offer, Mr Johnson said: “The Chinese, actually, have stepped up. They’ve gone a long way already and I congratulate President Xi on his vision.
“China is going forward to net zero by the middle of the century – 2060. That’s extraordinary. I think China is massively important on this, but it shows real signs of making progress.”
Mr Johnson brushed off climate-denying comments made a decade ago by his new international trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who in 2012 tweeted “We aren’t getting hotter, global warming isn’t actually happening”, and branded climate campaigners “fanatics”.
Insisting Ms Trevelyan was an “outstanding” addition to his cabinet, he said: “If you were to excavate some of my articles from 20 years ago, you might find remarks I made obiter dicta about climate change that weren’t entirely supportive of the current struggle.
“But the facts change and people change their minds and change their views, and that’s very important too.”
An OECD report last week confirmed that only $79.6bn (£58bn) in climate finance for the developing world was mobilised by richer countries in 2019 – 2 percentage points up from the previous year but still well short of the $100bn target which was due to be reached in 2020.
Mr Johnson will tell fellow leaders on Monday that they have a “duty” to do more, and announce that £550m of climate finance previously committed by the UK is to go toward weaning developing countries off coal and helping them switch to cleaner energy sources.
“In coming together to agree the $100bn pledge, the world’s richest countries made an historic commitment to the world’s poorest – we now owe it to them to deliver on that,” he will say.
“Richer nations have reaped the benefits of untrammelled pollution for generations, often at the expense of developing countries. As those countries now try to grow their economies in a clean, green and sustainable way we have a duty to support them in doing so – with our technology, with our expertise and with the money we have promised.”
At the end of the General Assembly this week the UK will publish the detail of countries’ climate finance commitments to date, and Mr Johnson has asked Germany and Canada to draw up a $100bn delivery plan ahead of Cop26, to spell out how the climate finance promise will be met through to 2025.
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