It’s a tragedy this government is falling so short when it comes to climate leadership

Even at this late hour, the prime minister has the chance to turn things around, starting with the G20. It is an opportunity he cannot miss

Lisa Nandy
Friday 29 October 2021 14:35
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Sir David Attenborough says Cop26 leaders must ‘listen to the science’

All eyes were on Britain this year.

In the middle of a global pandemic, it fell to us to host the G7 summit. We needed a plan. Instead, we got a pledge. The prime minister, Boris Johnson, said we would vaccinate the world by 2022. Months later, less than half the world has had a single dose of the vaccine and close to half a million new Covid-19 cases are being recorded daily globally.

Now, in a few days’ time, the UK will host the most important summit in a generation that must breathe life into the ambitious plans agreed in Paris six years ago and set us on a path to climate safety. Failure is not an option.

But with Cop26 just days away, the rhetoric from government has shifted from unbridled optimism to sombre realism.

In September, Johnson joined world leaders in New York to laud “an historic commitment to the world’s poorest” that would "keep 1.5C alive" – set the world on the path to climate safety. Little more than a month later and the prime minister has admitted he is “very worried” that the climate summit will fail to deliver the action we desperately need, as the UN warns us inadequate pledges for Cop26 means – even if promises are delivered in full – we are still on course for dangerous temperature rises.

Developed countries have built our wealth and influence through proud industries that were later discovered to be among the biggest polluters. Now developing countries face a double whammy, at the coalface of accelerating climate change and required to follow a cleaner path to industrialisation to avoid even worse impacts.

In 2009 talks in Copenhagen, we made them a promise that together we would ensure they had access to £100bn of climate finance by 2020. That promise was broken. But it remains an article of faith for many countries who will not sign up to more ambitious plans without the help they were promised being delivered.

As the world heats up, climate change is wrecking lives here and across the world. The pensions and life savings people have worked all their lives to accumulate are bound up in fossil fuels. This is why Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of England has warned that climate change is one of the “biggest risks” to our global economic future. Frequent flooding affects homes and businesses across Britain. And with wars and mass displacement caused by water and food shortages, nowhere on the planet is immune from the devastating effects of the Earth heating up.

Given the stakes, it is a tragedy for Britain and the world that this is a government whose ambition fails to match that of the British people. With overwhelming domestic support for concrete action on climate change, the government has a clear mandate to show global leadership.

But instead of using influential platforms like the G7 Summit in June to bring together world leaders around a common objective, the government ended up rebuked by the US president and, nearly two years after promising to Get Brexit Done, stuck in an endless war of words with European partners.

This is the backdrop for Cop26.

Transatlantic relations are weakened by years of cosying up to former President Donald Trump. Relationships with our European neighbours have been trashed. Countries across the world have seen promise after promise broken, on upholding the Good Friday Agreement, respecting international law, and showing solidarity on vaccines and poverty.

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On the eve of Cop26, the consequences of this decade of failed diplomacy begin to come into stark focus as the world heads for Glasgow.

It is leaders who set the tone for negotiations. Then-President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping committed to “show leadership and to lead by example” on cutting emissions, unlocking the space for cooperation that led to the Paris Agreement. And it was “the lionesses” of climate diplomacy – Christiana Figueres, as well as influential British women from the world of finance and philanthropy like Rachel Kyte and Kate Hampton – who helped build the foundations for the historic global agreement.

Unlike the 2015 summit, some of the key players won’t be around the table in Glasgow next week. China’s President Xi and Russia’s Vladimir Putin have confirmed they will not be attending, and uncertainty remains over whether other crucial leaders like Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro will make the trip. Without a clear political imperative to encourage negotiators to deliver ambitious commitments, the success of next week’s negotiations rests on the UK’s ability as host to broker a breakthrough.

Even at this late hour, the PM has the chance to turn things around. G20 leaders will assemble in Rome this weekend – countries that will be vital in securing meaningful action in Glasgow – from China and India to Brazil and Saudi Arabia. Johnson must not fail to seize this final opportunity to secure the extra investment and carbon cuts the world needs, or his beloved history books will not remember him kindly.

Lisa Nandy is the shadow foreign secretary and the Labour MP for for Wigan

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