COP26: Boris Johnson ‘frustrated’ at watered down coal pledge

Prime minister Boris Johnson has spoken of his frustration that a pledge to phase out coal was downgraded after an eleventh hour intervention by India and China.

Speaking at the Lord Mayor's Banquet in the City of London on Monday evening, Johnson said: “I know how frustrating it was - as we stood on the verge of agreeing to phase out coal - to see that commitment weakened.

"But I tell you this: I have been watching politics a long time now and I know when a tipping point is reached.”

He went on to say that the day was “now not far off when it will be as politically unacceptable, anywhere in the world, to open a new coal-fired power station as it now is to get on an aeroplane and light a cigar”.

The prime minister’s tone was far less bullish than in a speech to the House of Commons yesterday morning when he said that the summit had “proved the doubters and the cynics wrong”. He said that not only had COP26 succeeded “in keeping 1.5 alive, it succeeded in doing something no UN climate conference has ever done before by uniting the world in calling time on coal”. 

Johnson’s attitude was in stark contrast to that of COP26 president Alok Sharma who was close to tears when he said he “understood the deep disappointment” at the way the negotiations unfolded.

Sharma was also more circumspect than his boss about the goal of restricting the growth of temperatures to 1.5, saying that, “1.5 is alive but its pulse is weak”. 

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Speaking to the Commons, Johnson said COP26 had “ticked boxes on cars, cash and trees as well”. 

“The companies that build a quarter of the world’s automobiles have agreed to stop building carbon emission vehicles by 2035 – and cities from Sao Paulo to Seattle have pledged to ban them from their streets,” said Johnson. 

Johnson said that COP26 had “pioneered an intellectual breakthrough on climate finance”, where development bank investment was being used to trigger trillions from the private sector to drive big decarbonisation programmes in countries like South Africa, which has been backed by $8.5bn from the UK, France, Germany, US and EU.

He added that COP26 achieved something “that absolutely none of the commentators saw coming by building a coalition of more than 130 countries to protect up to 90% of our forests”.