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29 October 2021updated 02 Nov 2021 10:26am

Can Boris Johnson save Cop26 from failure?

Downing Street has warned that “too many countries are still doing too little” but Johnson insists success is still possible.

By Tim Ross

Boris Johnson is on an 11th-hour mission to persuade world leaders to take action to save the planet from climate change. 

With just three days to go before he welcomes foreign governments to Glasgow for the Cop26 talks, the Prime Minister is trying to rally his counterparts at the G20 leaders’ summit in Rome. 

His critics say it’s late in the day to be attempting to win concessions from countries that have poor records on emissions. The leaders of China and Russia, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, will not be attending Cop and Downing Street officials are signalling their frustration with other governments. But Johnson isn’t giving up. 

“The success of Cop26 still hangs in the balance,” Johnson’s spokesman told reporters. “Too many countries are still doing too little. It’s going to be challenging. 

“As the countries with the greatest historic and modern contributions to global warming, who have built their economies on the backs of burning dirty fossil fuels, the G20 holds the key to unlocking global action and making the progress we so badly need to live up to our commitments.” 

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Some of the negative mood may be about managing expectations, ahead of the gathering in Glasgow next week. 

Downing Street is not keen to set specific targets for the fortnight of climate talks, making it harder to measure whether it succeeds or not. 

In broad terms, Johnson’s team wants to keep the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C alive. That doesn’t mean every country attending the summit must sign up to measures that achieve this, but it means the overall picture of commitments cannot make it impossible to reach the goal. The government insists this is ambitious enough and will be hard to achieve. 

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The summitry also marks a key moment for Johnson’s Global Britain agenda, as he seeks to demonstrate leadership on the world stage after Brexit. The UK has some claim to having led the way on climate action in recent months, announcing an ambitious and detailed strategy for reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. It was also the first country to enshrine this net-zero target in law. 

While Johnson concedes that the summit will be tough, failure is not guaranteed either. Countries including Australia, Saudi Arabia and Russia have come forward with promises to eliminate their contributions to climate change in recent days. 

But Johnson will urge G20 leaders to take concrete steps on cutting coal, transitioning to electric vehicles, pledging cash for developing nations, and planting trees. 

“Climate-vulnerable countries are increasingly experiencing apocalyptic flooding, wildfires, heatwaves and the prospect of their economies being devastated thanks to climate change,” Johnson’s spokesman said. 

“On Monday, G20 leaders will come face to face with leaders from those countries at Cop26 and will have to account for their actions. If we don’t act now, it will be too late.” 

The G20 will also discuss the global recovery from the pandemic and promoting action to improve the lives of women and girls. 

The UK announced on Friday night (29 October) that it is sending 20 million further doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid vaccine to the World Health Organisation’s global Covax initiative, which aims to deliver fair access to shots for poorer countries. 

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