“Team World is up against a very formidable opponent in climate change,” Boris Johnson insisted ahead of Cop26 last November. In recent months, however, the same amnesia that led the UK Prime Minister to seemingly forget various “parties” he attended has apparently also wiped his memory of the greatest existential threat facing his country.
The international climate summit was Johnson’s moment in the sun, to prove post-Brexit that Britain still had diplomatic clout. And it worked. The Prime Minister played the role of a concerned statesman, saying and doing the right things, while the Cop26 president, Alok Sharma, his team and UK civil servants played a blinder.
Less than three months later, though, and only Sharma still seems fully in control of his faculties. Leaders who came to Glasgow now have a choice, he said this week. “Do they match the powerful rhetoric we heard, with concrete action? Or do they allow our success to wither on the vine?”
And yes, Mr Johnson, one of these leaders is you. The media may no longer be focused on your climate decisions, but the UK and the rest of the world need your leadership on the energy transition more than ever. And, in case it has slipped your memory, you hold the Cop26 presidency until Egypt takes over in November.
Unless the fine words agreed in Glasgow are turned into policies and actions very soon, global heating will continue apace, with disastrous consequences. Johnson may not have read it, but a risk assessment published by his own government this month said climate change above 2°C is likely to cause billions of pounds of damage in Britain every year.
Stuff and nonsense, argue many on the right of the Conservative Party. The UK is drowning in policies to meet “costly” net-zero emission targets, they shriek, falsely blaming “green taxes”, instead of geopolitics and global gas markets, for driving up energy prices. Johnson’s loss of authority and desire to appease colleagues is handing them the perfect opportunity to spread lies and half-truths about climate action.
This is short-sighted – a fact long recognised by Johnson, who previously boasted that Britain will “lead the world” on climate action, which will in turn create “the greatest opportunity for jobs and prosperity” since the industrial revolution. The NGOs Friends of the Earth and ClientEarth are now suing the government over the net-zero strategy that these words preface for its lack of detail and breach of human rights.
The Conservative Party will score a massive own goal if it uses the distraction of “partygate” to lead policies, voters and the world down the garden path to an imaginary land where climate science can be contested, renewables are expensive and the status quo is cheaper than climate action. It is time to jog memories.