What a difference four weeks makes. When Boris Johnson addressed the UN general assembly in New York last month, he described the Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow as “the turning point for humanity” when the world must limit the rise in temperature to 1.5C.
As 25,000 people from 197 countries, including 120 presidents and prime ministers, start the two-week conference, Johnson’s trademark optimism seems to have a supply chain problem. This week he described the outcome as “touch and go” and said the “very, very tough” summit “might go wrong”. UK ministers warn privately the summit will not be “the last word” on 1.5C. For once, the politicians are not performing their old trick of downplaying expectations, so things appear better on the night. “It's looking challenging and difficult,” one UK official told me.
When the UK won the Cop26 presidency two years ago, the prime minister saw a huge opportunity to showcase “global Britain”. There was brave talk in government of hardening up the agreement at the 2015 Paris summit to keep the world’s temperature rise above pre-industrial levels to well below 2C and pursue efforts to keep it below 1.5C. Perhaps the new goal could be a firm commitment to 1.5C and therefore “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
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