In Depth

Boris Johnson’s record on climate change

Sacked former minister says PM ‘doesn’t really get’ global warming

The sacked head of this year’s COP 26 global climate change conference in Glasgow has said Boris Johnson “doesn’t get” climate change.

Claire O’Neill told Today on BBC Radio 4 that the UK is “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, says The Guardian.

The former minister, who was dismissed on Friday by Johnson’s key adviser Dominic Cummings, added: “My advice to anybody to whom Boris is making promises – whether it is voters, world leaders, ministers, employees or indeed, to family members – is to get it in writing, get a lawyer to look at it and make sure the money is in the bank.”

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.”

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 “almost always voted against measures to prevent climate change”, says the parliamentary vote tracking website TheyWorkForYou

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.

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What has he done as PM?

At the recent 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, adds the Guardian. At the summit, deals were signed for nearly £2bn investment in African oil and gas.

Johnson is today set to announce more ambitious plans to ban the sale of emissions-producing vehicles by 2035, five years earlier than the UK’s original target of 2040.

Experts had warned that 2040 would be too late if the UK wanted to reach its goal of emitting zero carbon by 2050, a target enshrined in law by Theresa May last summer.

Activists have warned that the government lacks a clear plan for reaching net zero, and there have not been sufficient new measures put in place to reach the target since it was set.

Mike Childs, the head of science at environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth, said in December: “The prime minister was 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.

“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 in December 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.

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 office as foreign secretary.

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 PM said?

Johnson has not responded directly to the comments made by O’Neill, who was told by Downing Street on Friday that she could not chair the upcoming 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26) in Glasgow in November because she is no longer a minister (she did not seek reselection as an MP in the December general election).

However, the PM said: “Hosting COP 26 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.”

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