Boris Johnson has claimed there are “opportunities” for the UK from melting ice caps – as he hosts the Cop26 international summit on climate change.
The prime minister told MPs on Wednesday afternoon, “the retreat of the ice towards the North Pole”, could open up new sea routes that would benefit Scottish ports.
Environmentalists said Cop26 was the “worst possible time” to talk about a supposed tiny “silver lining” from the climate crisis which is expected to wreak havoc with extreme weather.
Mr Johnson made the comments during his statement to parliament about progress in the summit, at which he is trying to convince leaders to commit to stricter climate targets to avert disaster.
After a Tory MP suggested China might benefit from new sea routes, Mr Johnson said: “My right honourable friend is completely right to point out the consequences for the world of the retreat of the ice towards the North Pole.
“I'm afraid it will offer opportunities not just for China but actually also for ourselves. Scapa Flow and other parts of Scotland will become potentially very important for sea traffic of a clean, green variety.”
Mr Johnson’s comment follows a similar statement this year from Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, who hailed, “the consequences of possible climate change”, for potentially opening up a northern shipping route.
Responding to Mr Johnson’s comments, a spokesperson for Greenpeace UK said: “The Prime Minister’s compulsion for going off script seems to be getting the better of him at the worst possible time.
“It’s unclear who Johnson is trying to reassure with this tatty, little scrap of silver lining but he sounds like a doctor telling you what amazingly good value undertakers are these days.”
Scientists believe the Arctic could be free from summer ice as soon as 2040. The region is warming twice as fast as anywhere else on earth and sea ice is declining by more than 10 per cent every year.
Mr Johnson said on Tuesday at Cop26 that, “if we don't fix our climate, it will be an economic catastrophe as well”.
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