Days after Boris Johnson “got Brexit done,” the UK Tory Prime Minister has thrown himself behind the fight to deal with global warming, with a promise to take personal leadership of this year’s crucial UN climate talks and to govern from the front with “urgent action.”
“Unless we take urgent action, we will get 3°C hotter,” Johnson said on Tuesday at the formal launch of UK plans to host the COP26 in Glasgow in November, now widely seen as a “last chance” to lock in serious and co-ordinated action under the UN umbrella.
“As a country, as a society, as a planet and as a species, we must now act,” he said, and called on all governments to follow Britain’s lead in setting a target of net zero emissions by 2050.
“We were the first to industrialise, so we have a responsibility to lead the way,” Johnson told an audience at the Science Museum in London.
“We have to deal without CO2 emissions and that is why the UK is calling for us to get to net zero as soon as possible – for every country to announce credible targets to get there. That is what we want in Glasgow.”
It came as the UK regulator Ofgem, launched its draft plan to ensure that the country’s electricity grid reaches zero emissions by 2050, and a day after the UK announced it would bring forward its ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars to 2035, and would also ban new hybrid vehicles.
Johnson’s call to arms on climate – which was endorsed by Sir David Attenborough – casts Australia even more bleakly as a backwards Colonial outpost, where the resumption of parliament this week was marked by a failed coup and a couple of high profile departures, and a renewed commitment to coal.
“We have now all agreed on the problem, we now have to do something about it.”
Environmentalist Sir David Attenborough says the next UN Climate Change Conference should focus less on alarming people and more on action pic.twitter.com/31pmb5mNjm
— QuickTake by Bloomberg (@QuickTake) February 4, 2020
Australian voters expecting deep reflection on the horrific season of bushfires and other extreme weather events endured over the summer have witnessed a failed challenge to the Nationals leadership by Barnaby Joyce, and his extraordinary attack on wind and solar as the Nationals re-committed to a new coal fired generator.
Even in mainstream media, the challenge for progress was highlighted by Nine’s Today Show, where the hosts were unanimous in mocking the UK EV initiative and declaring they were determined to hang on to their gas-guzzling SUVs and 4WDs.
— The Today Show (@TheTodayShow) February 4, 2020
Still, it should be noted that the UK has not quite managed to take the politics out of climate action.
Johnson’s promise of global and national leadership on climate action was somewhat overshadowed by the sacking of Claire O’Neill, the UK’s former clean growth minister, from her role as COP26 president.
O’Neill responded to her sacking with an open letter to Johnson, which has been re-printed in full and handily decoded by The Guardian here.
To her credit, O’Neill used much of the letter to push for strong leadserhip on climate action, and to stress her opinion that “the world’s attempts to get to grips with this epic Tragedy of the Commons are failing,” and not least due to political infighting and bureaucracy.
“The annual UN talks are dogged by endless rows over agendas, ongoing unresolved splits over who should pay and insufficient attention and funding for adaptation and resilience,” she said.
But comments made in an interview with BBC Radio 4 were less measured, and more scathing of Johnson, who O’Neill said had admitted to her that he didn’t really “get” climate change.
“He has admitted to me that he doesn’t really understand it. He doesn’t really get it, is what he said,” O’Neill told an interviewer.
“We have seen a huge lack of leadership and engagement,” she added.
“Our efforts right now are somewhere around League One. We are playing at Oxford United levels when we need to be Liverpool if we are going to do what the world needs us to.”
The clear and blunt climate message from the very top of British politics will be a welcome precursor to the Glasgow climate talks, which are widely considered to be the most important UN gathering on the crisis since Paris in 2015.
And it is not all talk, or “warm statements,” as O’Neill put it. It follows the UK government’s decision last year to enshrine net zero emissions by 2050 into law, and is being supported by a Decarbonisation Action Plan published this week by Britain’s energy regulator, Ofgem – as reported in detail here.