‘People need facts on climate’ from Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson shows the flag: But what will he have to show his fellow climate negotiators at Glasgow’s meeting in November? Image: By U.K. Prime Minister, OGL 3, via Wikimedia Commons

The UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, is urged by advisers to step up and tell people the facts on climate.

LONDON, 24 June, 2021 − In an uncompromising message directed at the UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, an independent advisory group has told him he must rapidly “level with people” over the facts on climate.

The advisers say Johnson needs to do this within a matter of months, before the UK hosts the UN climate conference, COP-26, in Glasgow in November, because the road it faces will be “tricky”.

The advice comes from the Climate Change Committee (CCC), an independent statutory body set up to advise the UK government and the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, on emissions targets, and to report to Parliament on progress made in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change.

Last week the CCC’s chief executive, Chris Stark, said the level of risk posed by climate change had risen in the last five years, and the extent of planning to adapt to it was “really shocking”.

Onus on Johnson

He told the Climate News Network in an interview that the UK had set sound, science-based targets for reaching its goal of cutting its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by the middle of the century, but it needed to do far more on delivering them.

“We need the government to level with people, because some of the decisions ahead will be tricky,” Dr Stark said. “We need Boris Johnson to step up before November.

“Delivering what the UK has promised could be the basis of a better relationship between us and the US, Europe, and possibly even China. Johnson needs to recognise that, to see the political opportunities delivery  offers. The responsibility for what happens in Glasgow rests with him.”

The CCC is resolute in seeing opportunities as well as potential problems ahead if the UK delivers on the climate promises it’s made. It’s warned Britons, for instance, that a drastic change of diet is necessary to help to reduce carbon emissions a cut in meat consumption of 20%.

“Time is running out for realistic climate commitments”

But that will prove “neither difficult nor scary” for Dr Stark. “Diets are changing already”, he says. “We’re moving to healthier eating habits. Younger people are eating less meat than their elders, and there’s an argument for the health benefits that offers.

“Farmers who can’t raise so many animals for meat will have new sources of money, using their land for soil restoration and for absorbing carbon, treating it as a crop.”

That’s a hopeful prospect, but it may prove little more than a glimmer against the background of the progress the world has to make to tackle the climate crisis, and how little time it has to do it. Transparency about the facts on climate will be essential.

Six years ago, at the 2015 UN climate conference, 195 nations affirmed the Paris Agreement, accepting a commitment to prevent global temperatures rising more than 2°C beyond their historic level, and to try to keep the rise to a more modest 1.5°C.

UK leadership in question

Progress to make the Agreement work is slow – so slow that the CCC is among those predicting that by the end of this century the temperature rise may have reached 3.5-4°C, or more. Referring specifically to the UK, it has a stark verdict: “Time is running out for realistic climate commitments.”

Its chairman, Lord Deben, says the UK cannot afford to “continue to be slow and timid.” If November’s climate conference in Glasgow is judged to have failed because the UK, its host, has not delivered on its undertakings, he says, “the whole concept of the UK being a global leader will be undermined.

“If all we do is promise, other people won’t take us seriously. Every decision we take has to be seen through the lens of our net zero target for mid-century.

“Not all parts of the government realise the urgency we need to avoid disruption to people’s lives. This government earns nine out of ten for determination and policy. But on delivery, I don’t think it reaches four out of ten.” − Climate News Network