Time is running out to avoid failure at the crucial climate summit the UK will host in November after a UN report found the world stands at code red, Boris Johnson has been told.
A senior Conservative warned the prime minister had yet to make his promises a reality, while a respected think tank told Mr Johnson he must make the landmark gathering a personal priority to deliver success.
As Tory MPs launched a group to fight climate action they claim will cost too much, the environment minister, Zac Goldsmith, appeared to reveal fears of an active campaign to sabotage Cop26 in Glasgow. But, despite calls for Mr Johnson to do the heavy liftingby using his clout to pressurise other world leaders into stronger commitments there are no plans for him to meet any before November, The Independent was told.
Talks have been left to Alok Sharma, the little-known Cop26 president who was handed the role after the prime minister tried and failed to recruit a big-hitter. No 10 instead claimed the UK is well ahead of other countries in slashing carbon emissions – and defended plans for a new North Sea oilfield as necessary in the short term.
The fears for the summit now less than 12 weeks away came after the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that the target for stopping runaway climate change is slipping beyond reach.
Philip Dunne, the Tory chair of the Commons Environmental Audit Committee, said Mr Johnson had inherited the UK’s favourable position in cutting CO2 from his predecessors in No 10 and had yet to build on it.
Before Cop26 leaders convene in Glasgow, he must show them he has the necessary political courage, by driving the government to adopt the strategies necessary to make his high-level climate promises a reality, he said.
Strategies for achieving net zero emissions by 2050, and for replacing gas boilers with heat pumps and improving home insulation, have been delayed by Whitehall rows over who will pay the bill.
Meanwhile, the UK’s global reputation has been dented by savage cuts to overseas aid. The Independent revealed that no new money has been set aside for the billions promised to help poorer countries adapt to the emergency.
Jill Rutter, senior fellow at the Institute for Government, questioned Mr Johnson’s near-invisibility, who has declined to speak publicly about the IPCC’s alarming findings. The prime minister had to prove he will confront, not duck, the difficult choices, Ms Rutter said, saying: In the absence of this, his exhortations to other world leaders will not appear credible.
The prime minister needs to pull out the diplomatic stops to deliver a success in Glasgow. That means he will need to do some of the heavy lifting himself – we have yet to see him use his position on the world stage to corral other countries. A group of Tory MPs led by Craig Mackinlay are fighting new expensive commitments that former Cabinet minister Esther McVey claimed might bankrupt the country.
Strikingly, Lord Goldsmith retweeted an accusation by the head of Natural England, Tony Juniper, that a campaign is underway in Tory-supporting media outlets to undermine Cop26. Urging Conservative MPs to reject it, he warned the summit must be “a turning point” and told the BBC: The alarm bells couldn’t be clearer or louder. We really need to get behind it.
In a statement, Mr Johnson called the UN report sobering reading, saying: We know what must be done to limit global warming – consign coal to history and shift to clean energy sources, protect nature and provide climate finance for countries on the front line. But the prime minister is refusing to block the new Cambo oilfield, in the North Sea, expected to start production in the autumn, on the grounds that its licence was granted many years ago.
Labour leader Keir Starmer said: The IPCC report is the starkest reminder yet that the climate crisis is here right now and is the biggest long-term threat we face. The biggest threat we now face is not climate denial but climate delay.