Boris Johnson Told Lack of Climate Action Puts COP26 in Jeopardy

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson risks failure when he hosts key climate change talks this year, unless he delivers on promises to eliminate greenhouse gas pollution, an independent government watchdog said.

Two years after the U.K. government enshrined in law a target to reach net zero emissions by 2050, strategies covering everything from transport to home heating have been scrapped, delayed, or fell short when they were published, the Climate Change Committee said Thursday.

Boris Johnson Told Lack of Climate Action Puts COP26 in Jeopardy

As a result, Johnson’s promises may ring hollow with other leaders when they convene in Glasgow, Scotland, later this year for a round of global talks known as COP26, said John Gummer, chairman of the committee. As COP26 president, the U.K. will need to encourage other nations to set their own mid-century decarbonization goals, putting the world on a path to limit global warming to 1.5 Celsius.

Other countries “want us to say and do the same thing. And if we do that, then I think we can make a real success of COP26,” said Gummer, who is also a member of Parliament’s upper chamber, the House of Lords. “If we don’t, then it seems to me that it puts the whole process into jeopardy.”

The government has set targets to reduce greenhouse gases by 68% in the four decades to 2030 -- rising to 78% by 2035 -- as it plots a course to reaching net zero emissions by 2050. These are some of the world’s most ambitious climate targets, aligning with the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5. Celsius. But the government watchdog said these lofty targets have yet to be backed by firm policies.

The business department scrapped its Green Homes Grant less than a year after launching it and has yet to announce a replacement program to encourage people to insulate their homes.

The committee, which advises the U.K. government on climate change, singled out Rishi Sunak’s Treasury Department as “procrastinating” over its review into the costs of meeting net zero. The review was initially slated to be published in autumn 2020 but still hasn’t got a publication date. Chancellor of the Exchequer Sunak told lawmakers in Parliament this week that it would come “imminently.”

The watchdog also criticized the government for failing to incorporate the net zero targets into planning laws. That led to a local government last year approving plans for a new coal mine in the north of England, said Gummer, a former secretary of state for the environment.

Progress Woeful

The watchdog estimates U.K. emissions fell by 13% in 2020, compared with a global decline of 6% from 2019 levels. However, the dramatic drop was caused by pandemic lockdowns and is likely to rebound, said Chris Stark, chief executive of the committee. He said the U.K.’s progress has been “woeful” on cutting emissions from farming, while advances in the waste industry have stalled.

“The targets they have set are not going to be achieved by magic,” Stark said.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy defended the government’s climate policy, saying the U.K. had decarbonized faster than any other Group of Seven nation. “Any suggestion we have been slow to deliver climate action is widely off the mark,” she said.

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