Sacked COP26 president hits back at Johnson

Claire Perry O'Neill says COP26 is threatened by Tory broken promises, failure to take action, faction fighting, ballooning costs.

This isn't a pretty place to be and we owe the world a lot better.

The former president of the UN climate summit in Glasgow who was sacked by the government last week has launched a blistering attack on prime minister Boris Johnson's record on tackling climate change.

Claire Perry O'Neill, the former clean growth minister, spoke out as the PM prepared to outline new measures, including a ban on sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles being brought forward to 2035.

In a letter to Mr Johnson published by the Financial Times, Ms O'Neill told him: "You promised to 'lead from the front' and asked me what was needed: 'Money, people, just tell us!' Sadly these promises are not close to being met."


She added: "This isn't a pretty place to be and we owe the world a lot better."

She said the PM had not convened the cabinet subcommittee on climate change that he had promised, adding that the government was "miles off track" in setting a positive agenda for the COP26 summit in Glasgow in November, and that promises of action "are not close to being met".

Her attack came as Mr Johnson was about to outline plans for the summit with a speech setting out Britain's stall as a leader on tackling climate change.

In his speech on Tuesday, he will urge other countries to follow the UK's lead in setting targets to cut their emissions to net zero - with major cuts to greenhouse gases and any remaining pollution offset by measures such as planting trees.

As part of the UK's moves to meet its legal goal to reach net zero by 2050, the government will consult on bringing forward a planned ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles from 2040 to 2035 - and earlier if feasible.


The ban, which government adviser the Committee on Climate Change has called for by as early as 2030, will also include hybrid vehicles for the first time.

At an event attended by Sir David Attenborough, Mr Johnson will call for international efforts to reach net zero as early as possible through investment in cleaner technology and protection of natural habitat - which will also help reverse losses in wildlife.

Mr Johnson said: "Hosting COP26 is an important opportunity for the UK and nations across the globe to step up in the fight against climate change. As we set out our plans to hit our ambitious 2050 net-zero target across this year, so we shall urge others to join us in pledging net-zero emissions.

"There can be no greater responsibility than protecting our planet, and no mission that a Global Britain is prouder to serve. 2020 must be the year we turn the tide on global warming - it will be the year when we choose a cleaner, greener future for all."

The event will also kick off a year of climate action across the UK, the government said.


The UN climate talks in November are the most important since the Paris Agreement to curb global warming was secured in 2015.

This isn't a pretty place to be and we owe the world a lot better.

Countries are expected to deliver more ambitious domestic plans for cutting greenhouse gases by 2030 - as current proposals are not enough to prevent dangerous temperature rises.

Pressure is also on countries to set out long-term plans for cutting emissions, with the science now clear that the world must reduce greenhouse gases to zero in a matter of decades to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

The run-up to the talks will require a major diplomatic effort from the UK to secure ambitious climate action from countries - at a time when Britain is also negotiating trade agreements with the EU and other nations.

Ms O'Neill, who stood down as a Tory MP at the general election, was sacked as president of the talks by the PM's special adviser, Dominic Cummings, on Friday, with the government saying the post would be a ministerial role in future.


But Nick Mabey, chief executive of climate change think-tank E3G, said the UK's presidency had got off to a bumpy start with the decision to dismiss her.

Her replacement has a "daunting task" and will need to be a political heavy hitter, with an immense diplomatic effort needed from the UK to steer the negotiations, he said.

While the UK has a legal target to cut emissions to net zero by 2050, the Committee on Climate Change has warned that domestic action to slash carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases is lagging far behind what is needed - even before the net-zero target was set.

In her letter to Mr Johnson, Ms O'Neill suggested his personal animosity towards Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon is endangering the success of the summit and claimed the prime minister is considering relocating the event to an "English location" because of "ballooning costs".

Ms O'Neill is also reportedly consulting lawyers about what she claims were "false, distorted and defamatory" briefings about her record, saying Number 10 was "rumoured" to be behind the briefings.

She told the Financial Times she had been considered for a peerage by Downing Street to give her more authority in her UN summit role, but this had now been "firmly rescinded".


Mike Childs, Friends of the Earth’s head of policy, responded to Johnson’s plans to consult on bringing forward a ban on sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles to 2035 or earlier. 

He said: “The government is right to accelerate the phase-out of petrol and diesel cars to curb air pollution and address the climate emergency, but the ban should start in 2030 – not 2035.

“A new 2035 target will still leave the UK in the slow-lane of the electric car revolution and meantime allow more greenhouse gases to spew into the atmosphere.

“If the UK government wants to show real leadership ahead of this year’s climate summit it must also urgently reverse its plans for more climate-wrecking roads and runways – and pull the plug on its support for new gas, coal and oil developments.”

Rebecca Long-Bailey MP, Labour’s shadow business and energy secretary, said: “To cut air pollution, tackle the climate crisis and lead the world in electric vehicle manufacturing, we need strong action from government now, not more long term targets.

“The government must immediately invest to rapidly expand the UK's charging network, so it can support the majority of vehicles by 2030. We need a scrappage scheme for polluting cars, and we need measures to enable business and government fleets to go 100% electric by 2025.”

This Author

Emily Beament is the PA environment correspondent. Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist. Image: Chatham House, via Flickr. 

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