David Cameron Rejected Johnson’s Offer to Chair UN Climate Talks

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(Bloomberg) -- Former U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said he turned down an offer by the incumbent, Boris Johnson, to lead this year’s round of United Nations climate talks.

Johnson last week sacked former energy minister Claire O’Neill as president of November’s COP26 summit in the Scottish city of Glasgow. That sparked a row that overshadowed the premier’s formal launch of the conference on Tuesday, as O’Neill said the prime minister had told her he “doesn’t really understand“ climate change.

It’s also led to speculation about who might replace O’Neill in the diplomatic role, which involves liaising with representatives of more than 190 nations. The Financial Times late on Tuesday said both Cameron and former Foreign Secretary William Hague had been approached to take the role, but had declined. Cameron confirmed that was the case to the BBC on Wednesday.

“It was an honor to be asked to do that job and I was very grateful to be asked,” Cameron said. “It’s best in these situations if you have a Government minister doing a job; you then have sort of one line of command rather than, perhaps, two people doing the same thing.”

Johnson was challenged in Parliament over the row on Wednesday. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn read out O’Neill’s criticisms during prime minister’s question time. Johnson insisted his record was a good one.

“If you look at what this government is achieving and has already achieved on climate change, it is quite phenomenal,” Johnson told the House of Commons. “We are leading the world in our ambitions and we will have a wonderful summit in Glasgow.”

The president of COP -- which stands for Conference of the Parties -- is charged with seeking to balance the demands of developing and industrialized nations while being guided by a body of scientific evidence that shows humans aren’t cutting greenhouse gases quickly enough. At the same time, they have to get to grips with a complex set of procedural rules and an array of acronyms and jargon that can often bog down the talks.

Potential candidates for the role include Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove, a former environment secretary who brought in measures to crack down on plastics use, Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom, and Zac Goldsmith, a junior environment minister in the House of Lords known for his environmentalism.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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