Boris Johnson: COP26 delivered as much as we could have hoped

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has delivered a post-COP26 press conference, saying he feels "tinged with disappointment" that a stronger deal was not struck, but defending the summit as a "success".

Boris Johnson: COP26 delivered as much as we could have hoped

Image: UK Government

Johnson delivered the conference on Sunday evening (14 November), one day after the gavel came down at the Scottish Events Campus on the new ‘Glasgow Climate Pact’, supported by more than 190 nations.

The Pact has sparked a mixed reaction. For the first time, fossil fuels are explicitly mentioned, but a last-minute change requested by India means nations are now required to “phase-down” “unabated” coal. There was particular disappointment about a lack of concrete progress around climate finance and adaptation, loss and damage. 

Click here for edie’s full story on how the Pact was reached.

Click here for edie’s in-depth dive into seven of the Pact’s key inclusions.

Addressing the reaction to the Pact, Johnson said the mood has been “tinged with disappointment” on behalf of “those for whom climate change is already a matter of life and death, who can only stand by as their islands are submerged and their farmlands turned to deserts, their homes battered by storms, they demanded a high level of ambition for this summit.”

“And while many of us were willing to go there, that wasn’t true for everybody,” Johnson continued. Sadly, that’s the nature of diplomacy. We can lobby, we can cajole, we can encourage, but we cannot force sovereign nations to do what they do not wish to do. It is ultimately their decision and they must stand by it. But, for all that, we can be immensely proud of what has been achieved by [COP26 President] Alok Sharma and his team.”

Speaking to the fact that the new Pact asks nations to update their 2030 Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement by COP27 (if possible, with nations including China and South Africa arguing this deadline was too tight), Johnson said: “All of this is totally contingent on governments sticking to their pledges. But I feel very strongly that a tipping point has been reached in peoples’ attitudes.”

He said promises need to be “delivered and not diluted” and strengthened in the coming years.

When asked by the BBC whether he believed COP26 has “passed the ball” to the next summit on crucial issues, Johnson argued: “This summit was never going to be able to halt climate change… stop it now in its tracks. But what people conceivably thought we could do was slow the rate of increase and equip ourselves with the tools to turn it around. The reason I’m so optimistic is that I think, for the first time, humanity is genuinely equipping ourselves with the equipment we need to halt anthropogenic climate change altogether.”

When asked how he would rate the summit’s outcome, the Prime Minister said it would be at least six out of ten.

Spotlight on coal

During his pre-scripted part of the press conference, Johnson said: “I know it is tempting to be cynical and to dismiss these types of summits as talking shops, but we came to COP and called for real action on coal, cars, cash and trees, and real action is exactly what we got.”

‘Coal, cars, cash and trees’ has been Johnson’s own slogan for his set of priorities for the summit and, while international agreements on all of these matters were forged, many have criticized the UK Government’s positioning itself as the sole leader of the COP, when it is a far more complex process.

On coal, India’s last-minute request means the final text asks nations to “phase-down”, not “phase-out”, coal power. Johnson argued that there was not a great deal of difference between the phrases, as he believe “the direction of travel is pretty much the same”. Social pressure, he said, will make it “unacceptable” to start new coal plants within a matter of years in all nations.

Sharma has acknowledged that the Pact’s coal-related phrasing is notably different and, on Saturday evening as the Pact was passed, was observed to cry. He said, nonetheless, that getting coal and other fossil fuels mentioned are “historic firsts”. He added that he was told he would “never get them included in the language” of the final text.

Aside from the overarching Pact, 28 nations joined the Powering Past Coal Alliance at COP26, taking the total membership to 165 cities, regions, states and businesses.

Domestically, UK has a 2024 date for ending coal-fired power generation but will still use coal in sectors such as steel beyond this point. It is also considering a new deep coal mine for coking coal, most of which would be exported, in Cumbria.

You can catch up with all the top headlines from the first week of COP26 in edie’s coverage hereand the second week here. Our bank of COP26 Covered podcast episodes are also available to stream here.

Sarah George

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