The prime minister has come under a scathing attack by a former energy minister and president of the COP 26 UN climate summit who said Boris Johnson admits “he doesn’t really get” climate change and can’t be trusted on the issue.
Claire Perry O’Neill – who was sacked from her COP26 role last week by the government – made the claim hours before Johnson announced a UK ban on selling new petrol, diesel or hybrid cars from 2035.
The new policy was unveiled at today’s (February 4) launch event for the COP26 UN climate summit that will be held in Glasgow in November, during which Johnson said 2020 would be a “defining year for climate action”.
PM – emissions are ‘swaddling the planet like a tea cosy’
In a speech to school children at the event at the Science Museum, Johnson said: “We are trying to get people focusing on what this country is doing to tackle climate change and how to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, which as I understand it, is swaddling the planet like a tea cosy.”
He added: “We want to get everybody to agree to use new technology such as electric batteries, wind turbines, solar panels, all that kind of thing, so they stop producing so much greenhouse gases.”
O’Neill was sacked from her post to lead the COP26 talks on Friday (January 31) and told BBC Radio 4s Today programme: “The prime minister has made incredibly warm statements about this [climate change] over the years, he’s also admitted to me that he doesn’t really understand it,” O’Neill
When pressed with, “he really said that to you, did he?” O’Neill replied: “Yes, he’s said all sorts of things over the years.
“He doesn’t really get it, I think is what he said,” said O’Neill. “Others around him do.”
O’Neill said there was “a huge lack of leadership and engagement” from the government and warned listeners to be wary of the PM words: “My advice to anybody to whom Boris is making promises – whether it is voters, world leaders, ministers, employees, or indeed family members – is to get it in writing, get a lawyer to look at it and make sure the money’s in the bank.”
O’Neill’s scathing 4 page letter to PM
O’Neill was a Conservative minister for energy and clean growth before being appointed to head the COP26 summit in Glasgow, and wrote a scathing four-page letter to the PM following her sacking by Johnson’s special advisor Dominic Cummings, that was published by the Financial Times. In it, O’Neill wrote: “let’s leave my disappointment with the firing process and No. 10’s apparent dark ops to one side, and focus on the real issue,” telling the PM: “We are almost out of time to win the battle against climate change and start the process of climate recovery.”
She added: “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 (to inevitable climate changes).
“It was particularly awful at the last conference in Madrid. While half a million climate action protesters gathered in the streets, I sat in plenary sessions where global negotiators debated whether our meeting should be classified as ‘informal’ or ‘informal-informal’.”
She added: “There is a yawning gap between what the world expects from us and where we are. It’s a systemic failure of global vision and leadership.”
‘Salty’ language and ‘playground politics’
O’Neill also attacked “the playground politics” between Downing Street and Holyrood, revealing she had suggested giving the Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon a key role at the COP26 conference in Glasgow but her proposal was rejected by Johnson with “salty” language.
Climate campaign group Extinction Rebellion (XR) said the PM had “proved himself a slippery fish” on climate issues and that his ban on diesel cars by 2035 is “way too late”. Verity Lancaster, 21, an XR protestor outside the Science Museum said she could not trust the PM on climate issues, explaining: “Boris has proved himself to be such a slippery fish, it doesn’t matter if you get it in writing – he’s going to lose the piece of paper.”