With just over six months to go until the vital UN climate talks, Boris Johnson has urged world leaders at a virtual summit at the White House to step up their plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions this decade. .
“It is vital for all of us to show that this is not just an expensive politically correct green act of ‘rabbit hugs’ or whatever you want to say,” the prime minister told possibly a little puzzled leaders. “There’s nothing wrong with ‘rabbit hugs,’ but you know what I mean.”
“The cake has to be eaten,” he went on to suggest as an overriding motto, arguing that cutting carbon emissions could also be good for the economy. This followed his famous Brexit quote that when it came to cakes, he was “holding it and pro eating it.”
But ecology experts said Johnson was failing to combine rhetoric with action and that the UK would need to come up with clear new policies and sweeping changes in government departments to show the leadership necessary to drive action around the world.
US President Joe Biden, the world’s second-largest emitter, made a new promise to cut his country’s emissions in half by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, which was applauded by many of the world’s leading climate experts, although some activists said the US should go further. Japan and Canada also presented more difficult targets.
However, China, the world’s largest emitter, has yet to detail its plans for emissions in the next decade. Its current goal, announced last year, for emissions to peak by 2030 is considered insufficient, and climate analysts are calling for the country to set a maximum date in 2025.
The emissions pledges, called nationally determined contributions, are the foundation of the 2015 Paris climate agreement and are essential to meeting its goals of keeping global temperature increases well below 2 ° C, and preferably no more than 1 ° C. , 5 ° C, above pre-industrial levels.
Governments will meet in November in Glasgow for the UN COP26 climate summit to assess pledges and try to move towards meeting the Paris targets. Even with the announcements at the US climate meeting on Thursday, the world is still far off course, and the UK, as host to the vital talks, will face a difficult diplomatic task.
Johnson has accepted the recommendations of the UK Climate Change Committee to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 78% by 2035 and by 68% by 2030.
He called on other nations to follow his example. “The UK has shown that it is possible to cut emissions while growing the economy, which makes the question of going to net zero not so much technical as political,” he said. “If we really want to stop climate change, then this must be the year we get serious about doing it. Because the 2020s will be remembered as the decade in which world leaders came together to change course or as a failure. “
He called on all countries to come to Glasgow in November “armed with ambitious goals and the plans necessary to achieve them. And let the history books show that it was this generation of leaders that possessed the will to preserve our planet for generations to come. “
However, the UK has surprised many leading figures in climate diplomacy with recent actions that, according to many, appeared to go against the government’s green ambitions. The main one has been the cut in foreign aid, from 0.7% to 0.5% of GDP, which according to experts would harm countries trying to cope with the impacts of climate collapse, although climate aid is limited to 11.6 billion pounds over five years.
The initial green light for a new coal mine in Cumbria also raised questions, as did the UK’s support for the skeptical former Australian climate minister Mathias Cormann as the next OECD head. There were also a number of internal measures, including new oil and gas licenses in the North Sea; scrapping the green housing subsidy for low-carbon insulation and heating; airport expansion; and reducing incentives for electric cars, which observers said appeared to show a lack of joint thinking on green issues across the government.
Ed Miliband, the Labor Party’s alternative business secretary, who led the UK delegation to the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, said the government must put more pressure on nations to further strengthen its goals, so that the Cop26 be a success. “We should not think that the promises made in April are the last word before a summit in November,” he said. “There is room to do more.”
But he added that to do so, the UK government would need a more compelling strategy. “What they are doing, with the cut in foreign aid, the new coal mine, etc., we would have more strength and moral authority if we were speaking the way we speak instead of just speaking the way we speak.”
Experts have warned that the government must do much more to integrate climate goals across all departments to achieve a consistent approach. Support from the Treasury will be key, but many think the signals are so far off that the Treasury has failed to grasp the challenge.
Caroline Lucas, a Green Party deputy, said: “Yes [the business secretary] Kwasi Kwarteng believes that the energy white paper, the prime minister’s 10-point plan, and a few more offshore wind turbines will see the UK hit its new climate target by 2035, so he doesn’t get the science. They won’t even meet the earlier and weaker targets, let alone lead us to a 78% emission reduction by 2035.
“The attitude of this government is to keep its fingers crossed and hopefully something comes up. There is no willingness to participate in some of the critical political decisions that need to be made and in the plans that are launched and then abandoned. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism