‘I’m very worried’: Boris Johnson admits reaching climate summit deal is ‘touch and go’

‘We might not get the agreements that we need,’ PM concedes

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Monday 25 October 2021 17:13

Boris Johnson has admitted he’s “very worried” about the crucial climate summit as he conceded reaching an agreement with world leaders on the emergency facing the planet could be “touch and go”.

Putting into question the success of Cop26 — just six days before it kicks off in Glasgow — the prime minister acknowledged that it was “very, very far from clear that we will get the progress we need”.

The downbeat comments represent a major shift gear from Mr Johnson, who has often boasted optimistically about the summit and told the UN general assembly just last month it was “easy to be green” in a call to action.

His latest remarks, however, come after No 10’s hopes of securing an agreement were dealt a blow as the Russian president Vladimir Putin announced he would not attend and uncertainty continues over whether Xi Jinping will travel – despite China being the biggest greenhouse gas emitter.

Hosting children at No 10 for a “press conference” on the climate, the prime minister said the UK needed to persuade as many countries as possible to “go to net zero” and ensure they are not producing too much carbon dioxide by 2050.

“I think it can be done, it’s going to be very, very tough this summit and I’m very worried because it might go wrong — we might not get the agreements that we need,” he conceded on Monday.

“It’s touch and go, it’s very, very difficult. But I think it can be done, if you look at what the UK has done — we’ve cut our own Co2 emissions massively. We’ve cut coal emissions massively.”

With world leaders due to begin gathering on Sunday in Glasgow for the Cop26 summit, Mr Johnson said it was “perhaps the most important summit that this country has had in our lifetimes”.

Appearing alongside the WWF UK chief executive Tanya Steele in Downing Street, the prime minister added: “This is the opportunity for the world to try and stop climate change getting out of control.”

But he stressed it was “very, very far from clear” whether Cop26 would deliver the progress needed and while welcoming Australia’s commitment to reach net zero by 2050, he said it would be “very difficult” for the country due to its heavy dependence on coal and “lots of carbon-prodding industries”.

“I hope that they will be joined by lots more countries in that region for the Cop summit,” Mr Johnson said.

The prime minister’s official spokesperson later said he was setting out the “realistic situation”, adding: "We have made some progress with a number of countries, Saudi Arabia has come forward with some commitments, for example.

"But the prime minister was simply setting out the realistic situation that bringing together countries from around the world to sign up to ambitious targets such as these that require tangible commitments is difficult and challenging and will require some intense negotiation."

Asked whether Mr Johnson’s comments were a deliberate strategy to downplay expectations ahead of the summit, they replied: “No”.

The prime minister also told the children gathered in No 10 on Monday that recycling plastic “doesn’t work” and stressed the need to reduce the amount of material that is used. “Recycling isn’t the answer,” he said.

“It doesn’t begin to address the problem,” he added while Ms Steele said: “We have to reduce, we have to reuse — I do think we need to do a little bit of recycling, PM, and have some system to do so.”

The Recycling Association reacted with astonishment at the prime minister’s remarks saying they were “very disappointing”.

“‘Wow’, I think is the first answer,” he told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme. “I think he has completely lost the plastic plot here, if I’m honest.

“We need to reduce and I would completely agree with him on that, but his own government has just invested in the resources and waste strategy, which is the most ground-breaking recycling legislation and plan that we’ve ever seen, with recycling right at the front of it.

“So he seems to be completely conflicting with his own government’s policy.”

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