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10 November 2021

Boris Johnson warns Cop26 climate talks are “getting tough”

The Prime Minister had no jokes to offer and his tone was sober during today’s press conference.

By Tim Ross

Negotiators still have “a huge amount to do” if the world is to come up with a viable road map to limit global warming as time runs out for international talks, according to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

As the Cop26 global climate summit enters its final few days, Johnson used a press conference to urge negotiators in Glasgow to demand more flexibility from their political masters back home to get ambitious plans over the line.

“Negotiations are getting tough,” Johnson said. “With just a few days left, there is still a huge amount to do.”

The PM had no jokes to offer and his tone was sober during the press conference, which was brisk, lasting just over 20 minutes. In the past, Johnson has reached for a football analogy to explain the status of talks, in an effort to communicate the urgency and scale of the task facing negotiators in Glasgow. Last week when he provided a scorecard, he said humanity was 5-2 or possibly 5-3 down in the versus climate change, an improvement on the 5-1 position he had outlined a few days earlier.

By his own admission, Johnson doesn’t follow football very closely and on Wednesday, he chose a scenario from rugby, his preferred sport, to explain the state of play. “We have moved the ball a long way down the pitch,” he said, but talks are now in a “rolling maul”.

Is it significant that the British Prime Minister reached for a metaphor from his own sporting comfort zone? Maybe it is a signal that he’s feeling uneasy about the prospects for success of his flagship international event, as host of Cop26.

It is certainly likely that he’s uncomfortable about the reputation of his government and his own political authority as he battles allegations of sleaze, which of course have nothing to do with climate change but nevertheless dominated the questions put to Johnson in his press conference.

Johnson’s message was an appeal for a “determined push” to get the deal “over the line”. He wouldn’t name and shame individual countries that are dragging their feet on key pledges. Perhaps he’s saving that for another appearance at the summit over the weekend.

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The Prime Minister is expected to return to London on Wednesday evening (10 November), ahead of a cabinet meeting on Thursday. He’s then due to be leading remembrance commemorations on Sunday (14 November) in London.

That would leave a window on Friday (12 November) – when the talks are due to wrap up – and potentially Saturday, if they continue beyond the deadline, for him to return to make either a more forceful intervention or to hail victory.

The UK wants the negotiations to conclude on time, by 6pm on 12 November, but it seems Johnson is already thinking about an extension to the deadline. “I don’t see why we shouldn’t go into extra time if we have to,” he said today.

Johnson conceded that it is “impossible” for the Glasgow gathering to fix climate change in one go. But he went on: “There is the possibility that we will come away from this with the first genuine roadmap for a solution to anthropogenic climate change that I can think of in my lifetime.”

[See also: What Boris Johnson’s insistence that the UK is not a “corrupt country” reveals]

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