In Depth

What is Boris Johnson’s record on climate change?

PM tells world leaders to ‘grow up’ on tackling climate change

Boris Johnson has told world leaders gathered in New York that Kermit the frog was wrong when he said “it isn’t easy being green”. 

“It’s not only easy, it’s lucrative and it’s right to be green,” the prime minister said at the United Nations Assembly. Deploying what The Telegraph described as “characteristically colourful language”, Johnson told the Assembly that the “adolescence of humanity is coming to an end”, announcing it’s time to “grow up”

With 40 days until Cop26 gets underway, Johnson said the summit will be a “critical turning point” for humanity, in his “last major intervention on the world stage” ahead of the event, the newspaper continued.

“We are capable of learning and maturing and finally taking responsibility for the destruction we are inflicting, not just upon our planet, but upon ourselves,” said the PM.

He also pointed to Covid as an example “of the gloomy scientists being proved right”, and called on world leaders to heed their warnings on climate too. 

What is Johnson’s voting record?

While Johnson talks about the importance of combating climate change, his voting record suggests otherwise.

As an MP, he has “generally voted against measures to prevent climate change” between 2004 and 2020, according to the parliamentary vote tracking website TheyWorkForYou. For example, in 2019, he voted against a motion calling on the government to bring forward “a green industrial revolution to decarbonise the economy and boost economic growth”.

He has never voted for financial incentives for low carbon emission electricity generation methods, but he did vote for greater regulation of the fracking industry in 2015.

What has he done as PM?

After the 2019 General Election, Mike Childs, the head of science at environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth, accused the prime minister of being “alarmingly quiet on the climate crisis during his election campaign – failing to attend the televised debate on climate, and giving little attention to the issue in his party manifesto”.

He added: “We can’t afford any more lost time where science is ignored and ministers dawdle over climate action. It’s time that the government listens to its own advisers and stops the climate crisis worsening.”

Johnson was also criticised at the time for introducing a new air traffic management bill that would lift practical limits on the number of planes British airspace can accommodate.

“The government has shown a total disregard for the planet," Alannah Travers, an Extinction Rebellion spokesperson, told The Independent.

Around the same time, at the UK-Africa Investment Summit, Johnson “suffered a major mis-step and accusations of hypocrisy” after pledging to stop UK investment in coal in Africa, when there has been no such investment by the UK since 2002, added the Guardian. At the summit, deals were signed for nearly £2bn investment in African oil and gas.

The PM faced criticism from the outgoing head of Cop26, Claire O’Neill, who told Radio 4's Today programme that the prime minister “doesn’t get” climate change.

O’Neill, who was dismissed from her role in February 2020, said the UK was “miles off track globally where we are meant to be” and there has been a “huge lack of leadership and engagement” from the current government. 

Defending the prime minister on BBC Radio 5 Live, Michael Gove said: “I’ve known the PM for more than 30 years and the first time I met him he told me he was a green Tory.”

However, by November 2020, Johnson announced that the sale of new cars and vans powered by petrol or diesel would be banned within a decade. In his Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, the prime minister presented his roadmap for making the UK “the world’s number one centre of green technology and finance”, with plans for a greener infrastructure, investment in low carbon hydrogen, and achieving “jet zero”. “Green and growth can go hand-in-hand,” he declared.

And, in April this year, the government announced that the sixth Carbon Budget would include a target to “slash emissions” by 28% by 2035, and that it would be enshrined in law. But a spokesperson for the Climate Change Committee (CCC), the independent body tasked with advising the government on these issues, told CNBC last month that “without action on climate adaptation we will struggle to deliver key government and societal goals, including net zero itself”. 

What did he do in previous office?

As mayor of London, Johnson wrote a number of climate-sceptic articles. In The Daily Telegraph in 2013, he suggested cold winters could cast doubt on mainstream climate science. “I am speaking only as a layman who observes that there is plenty of snow in our winters these days, and who wonders whether it might be time for government to start taking seriously the possibility — however remote — that [climate change denier Piers] Corbyn is right,” he said.

In a 2015 article in the Telegraph, he said that recent winter weather had nothing to do with climate change. “I am sure that those global leaders were driven by a primitive fear that the present ambient warm weather is somehow caused by humanity; and that fear – as far as I understand the science – is equally without foundation. There may be all kinds of reasons why I was sweating at ping-pong [in December] – but they don’t include global warming,” he wrote.

In the run-up to Johnson’s election as mayor of London in 2008, billionaire hedge fund manager Sir Michael Hintze, a financial backer of the climate science denial group the Global Warming Policy Foundation, donated thousands of pounds to Johnson’s campaign in several instalments.

And it was revealed that a prominent climate change sceptic’s company donated £25,000 to Johnson’s Conservative leadership campaign in 2019, according to an Open Democracy report.

As foreign secretary, Johnson oversaw the number of full-time officials dedicated to climate change in the Foreign Office drop by almost 25% in two years.

The Guardian reported in April 2018 that, at that point, Johnson had failed to mention climate change in any official speech since he took up the ministerial role.

Johnson has campaigned against the planned third runway at Heathrow, famously saying that he would “lie down in front of those bulldozers”. But in June 2018, he failed to vote against the project when he was foreign secretary, instead flying to Afghanistan in “what appeared to be a hastily arranged diplomatic trip”, according to The Independent.

What has the Prime Minister said?

In 2020, the PM said: “Hosting Cop26 is an important opportunity for the UK and nations across the globe to step up in the fight against climate change.

“There can be no greater responsibility than protecting our planet, and no mission that a global Britain is prouder to serve.”

This week, Johnson warned world leaders that they will be “judged by history” if they fail to act on climate change. In his speech at the UN, the PM also repeated his “coal, climate, cars and trees” slogan, summing up the government’s priorities at Cop26.

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