Boris Johnson’s climate crisis rhetoric has to be backed up with swift action

Editorial: The prime minister is right that the world ‘has to grow up’ – and the UK must do everything it can to ensure that happens

Wednesday 22 September 2021 21:30
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<p>The PM outside the Capitol Building in Washington on Wednesday </p>

The PM outside the Capitol Building in Washington on Wednesday

As he travelled to New York on Sunday, Boris Johnson told journalists there was a “six in 10 chance” of success at the critical Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow in November. On the final day of his trip to the US, the prime minister said he might have “undercooked it”. President Biden’s announcement at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, that the US would double its climate finance to developing countries to $11.4bn (£8.3bn) a year, exceeded Mr Johnson’s expectations and provided some much-needed momentum ahead of the conference.

It is still not certain that, as the host of Cop26, the UK will ensure the richest nations finally deliver their pledge, first made in 2009, to provide $100bn annually by last year to help poor countries tackle climate change. Latest estimates from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), before Mr Biden’s announcement, suggested the rich nations club was about $20bn short. Hitting the $100bn target is a necessary precondition for persuading the developing world to cut their greenhouse gas emissions.

So Mr Johnson will have to persuade others to do their share. In his own words to the UN on Wednesday the prime minister said that Cop26 is “the turning point for humanity” and that world leaders must decide to be “awesome” in the fight against the climate crisis. With the summit just over five weeks away, he is characteristically leaving things until the last minute. While Alok Sharma, the cabinet minister and Cop26 president, has held talks with more than 100 countries, he does not enjoy the clout of a national leader in general or Mr Johnson in particular. Although the prime minister will doubtless want to focus on the gas price crisis on his return, he should devote as much time as possible from now on to ensuring a successful summit. For the UK not to fulfil its climate leadership role to the maximum would be nothing less than a dereliction of duty. Mr Johnson has said that the world believes “that someone else will clear up the mess we make” – Britain has to be at the forefront of changing that.

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