Can Boris Johnson Persuade Trump To Save The Planet?

The Glasgow climate change conference is another test of the PM’s post-Brexit vision.

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A Fair COP?

Another day, another Boris Johnson event, another huge issue of public policy. When the PM launched the UK’s presidency of the COP26 climate change conference today, his personal style of politics was on show once more. And so were the question marks.

Just like his big announcement on EU-UK trade yesterday, there was lots of big picture stuff, not much detail and, yes, another needless row over media scrutiny (environment correspondents were invited to sit, record and listen but not ask any questions).

At least in Greenwich on Monday, Johnson looked like he had put some work in. Today at the Science Museum, he sounded like he was addressing one of the many Tory conference fringe events that made him the darling of its activists over the years.

His speech was dominated by an anecdotal riff (a frequent ploy as London Mayor) about a Victorian electric taxi carriage. I like a cheery anecdote as much as the next man, but his story about Walter Bersey made up a full 34% of his entire speech. Yes, 34% of an address that was meant to set out a big, serious vision for saving the planet.

Claire O’Neill, the former minister unceremoniously fired from the post of President of the COP26 Glasgow talks, let rip this morning at what she saw as the PM’s lack of seriousness on both the event and the science itself. It’s not totally clear what she meant when she said he “doesn’t get climate change”, but few were surprised.

Yet Johnson was right when he said that the UK has been a world leader on the issue, not least as the first large economy with a legal commitment to net zero by 2050 (the EU hasn’t managed that yet). He was right too that our energy from coal has plunged from 70% in 1990 to just 3% today, and he had a little-noticed but important new target of getting coal energy to zero by 2024 (a year earlier than planned).

The accelerated target of banning all sales of petrol, diesel and even hybrid cars by 2035 is also ambitious enough to have sparked criticism from manufacturers and motoring groups. As with Huawei (and maybe HS2), that sounded like a PM using his big mandate to push for changes that will upset some of his own supporters.

And although Claire O’Neill was sacked under the convenient cover of Brexit Day last Friday, Johnson’s idea of a post-EU, global-focused Britain ought to fit with bold measures on saving the planet. Many of his family and friends are ‘green Tories’ and if he can somehow host a game-changing summit at the end of the year, many of his critics would have to eat their words.

Of course, few people are optimistic about the chances of success, given the chequered history of climate change talks and it would be unfair to blame another breakdown on the PM personally. But COP26 could be a real test of Johnson’s claims to be a ‘bridge’ between Europe and the Donald Trump White House, as well as his chumminess with Australian PM Scott Morrison (whose nickname ‘ScoMo’ he used yesterday).

I understand Johnson privately tried to persuade Trump (at the G7 in Biarritz) that there is a direct electoral benefit from being green. Could he persuade Morrison too, not least given the devastating bushfires that have wrecked huge swaths of his country, to try and secure his place in history?

After all their own hot air, could they see the merits of cutting the world’s hot air? Johnson at least today put his finger on the only test of the Glasgow gathering: “for every county to announce credible targets” to stop the globe overheating.

It’s the US that matters most, however. Washington and Beijing jointly hold the fate of the planet in their hands. And the COP26 conference starts on November 9, ending on November 19. That’s just days after Trump faces the American voters on November 3.

Even if he’s replaced by a President-elect Biden or President-elect Sanders, they won’t be in power until after the Glasgow conference. So, not for the first time, Trump matters to Boris Johnson. And, like it or not, they both matter to the planet.

Britain's prime minister Boris Johnson talks with David Attenborough during the launch of the upcoming UK-hosted COP26 UN climate summit.
Britain's prime minister Boris Johnson talks with David Attenborough during the launch of the upcoming UK-hosted COP26 UN climate summit.

Quote Of The Day

“It would be sensible for the Government to consider talking to the senior political editors who walked out, to see whether there is a way of getting over this problem and resolving it”

Father of the House, Sir Peter Bottomley, urges No.10 to end the row over selective briefing of journalists

Cheat Sheet

Lord Carlile, the former independent reviewer of terror legislation, warned that ministers “may be in breach of the law” and face legal challenge if they go ahead with moves to stop current terrorist offenders serve longer in prison.

SNP MPs walked through the voting lobbies in the Commons in defiance of an ‘English only’ vote on the NHS funding bill. A ‘hear no EVEL’ poster was plastered over the voting sign but deputy speaker Eleanor Laing ruled the Scottish votes would not be counted.

Sinn Fein president Mary-Lou McDonald told Newsnight that she was looking at fast-tracking a border poll in Northern Ireland if there was no trade deal with the EU by the end of this year.

Keir Starmer set out plans for sweeping changes in the party’s disciplinary procedures, an end to the NEC imposing parliamentary candidates and for all-BAME shortlists.

Labour MPs lined up to condemn No.10 for seeking to pick and choose which journalists would be allowed into extra briefings on issues such as Huawei and EU policy.

The Jewish Labour Movement called for the Tory whip to be removed from MP Daniel Kawczynski, after it emerged he was sharing a platform with far-right parties at a special conference.

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