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31 October 2021

Boris Johnson tells world leaders they’re failing on climate change

The Prime Minister insists there are “no compelling excuses” for delaying climate action as the G20 ends in Rome.

By Tim Ross

Most summits end with warm words and leaders congratulating themselves on making progress on their priorities. This one was different. 

Boris Johnson used a short press conference at the end of the G20 in Rome to deliver a withering rebuke to the leaders he spent the previous 48 hours talking to and dining with. 

Too many governments are failing to do enough to limit global warming and the crucial Cop26 climate talks in Glasgow – and by extension the fate of the planet – are headed towards disaster, he said. 

Despite heatwaves, droughts, flooding and wildfires, world leaders are not delivering on promises to limit carbon emissions made under the 2015 Paris Agreement. 

“Those words and promises are starting to sound frankly hollow,” Johnson said. “If Glasgow fails then the whole thing fails. The Paris Agreement will have crumpled at the first reckoning. The world’s only viable mechanism for dealing with climate change will be holed beneath the waterline.” 

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For a famously boosterish and optimistic politician, Johnson was remarkably downbeat, and clearly frustrated with the lack of action from his counterparts. There was some incremental progress – with commitments on ending support for overseas coal, he said. Saudi Arabia, Australia and Russia have all made net zero commitments, he added.

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But these pledges, “welcome as they are, are drops in a rapidly warming ocean,” he said. 

“Just 12 G20 members have committed to reach net zero by 2050 or earlier,” Johnson told reporters. “Barely half of us have submitted improved plans for how we will cut carbon emissions since the Paris summit in 2015. And we have also failed to meet our commitments to provide $100bn a year to support developing countries to grow in a clean and sustainable way.” 

While the G20 was “reasonable”, he said, “there is a huge way to go”. Nor is the issue one of technology. Developed nations know how to use technology to phase out coal, and this is vital to keeping alive the hope of limiting temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius, he said. Johnson finished by demanding leaders commit to more cash but above all demonstrate the “political will” to deal with the crisis. 

The chances of a successful outcome to Cop26 are about six in 10, Johnson said. The goal of 1.5 degrees is hanging in the balance, he added. 

On Monday, Johnson will have a chance to reinforce his point when he greets around 200 leaders and government representatives as they arrive in Glasgow. The marathon elbow bumping session is scheduled to take about three hours. Based on the tone of his farewell to Rome, the prime minister’s welcome to Scotland message may not be particularly warm. 

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