Boris Johnson – 2021 Statement on COP26

The statement made by Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, in the House of Commons on 15 November 2021.

Before I begin today’s statement, I would like to say a few words about the sickening attack that took place yesterday morning outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital. On behalf of the whole House, I want to pay tribute to the swift and professional response by the extraordinary men and women of the emergency services, who, once again, showed themselves to be the very best among us.

The Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre has today raised the nationwide threat level from substantial to severe, meaning that an attack is highly likely. The police are keeping both myself and the Home Secretary informed on developments and we will, in turn, keep the House updated on the investigation as it continues.

And now, Madam Deputy Speaker, with your permission I should like to make a statement on the United Nations Climate Change Conference, better known as COP26, which took place in the magnificent city of Glasgow over the past two weeks. It was the biggest political gathering of any kind ever held in the United Kingdom. One hundred and ninety four countries were represented. We had around 120 heads of state and heads of government, 38,000 accredited delegates, and countless tens of thousands more in the streets, parks and venues outside.

It was a summit that many people predicted would fail, and a summit, I fear, that some quietly wanted to fail. Yet it was a summit that proved the doubters and the cynics wrong, because COP26 succeeded not just in keeping 1.5 alive, but in doing something that no UN climate conference has ever done before by uniting the world in calling time on coal. In 25 previous COPs, all the way back to Berlin in 1995, not one delivered a mandate to remove so much as a single lump of coal from one power station boiler. For decades, tackling the single biggest cause of carbon emissions proved as challenging as eating the proverbial elephant—it was just so big that nobody knew quite where to start. In Glasgow, we took the first bite. We have secured a global commitment to phasing down coal. As John Kerry pointed out, we cannot phase out coal without first phasing it down, as we transition to other cleaner energy sources. We also have, for the first time, a worldwide recognition that we will not get climate change under control as long as our power stations are consuming vast quantities of the sedimentary super-polluter that is coal. That alone is a great achievement, but we have not just signalled the beginning of the end for coal; we have ticked our 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 São Paulo to Seattle have pledged to ban them from their streets. We have pioneered a whole new model—an intellectual breakthrough —that sees billions in climate finance, development bank investment and so forth being used to trigger trillions from the private sector to drive the big decarbonisation programmes in countries such as South Africa. And we have done 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 around the world—those great natural soakers of carbon.

None of this was a happy accident or inevitability. The fact that we were there at all, in the face of a global pandemic, is in itself the result of a vast and complex effort involving countless moving parts. Right until the very end, there was the real prospect that no agreement would be reached. What has been achieved has only come about thanks to month after month of concerted British diplomacy—the countless meetings; the innumerable phone calls; the banging of heads at the United Nations General Assembly, the Petersberg dialogue, President Biden’s climate summit, the Security Council, the G7 and the G20—and the setting of several examples by the UK, because again and again the task of our negotiators was made easier by the fact that the UK was not asking anyone to do anything that we are not doing ourselves.

We have slashed our use of coal so much that our last two coal-fired power stations will go offline for good in 2024. We have more than doubled our climate finance, providing vital support for poor and vulnerable nations around the world. We have made a legally binding commitment to reach net zero—the first major economy to do so. We have set a date at which hydrocarbon internal combustion engines will reach the end of the road. We have shown the world that it is possible to grow an economy while cutting carbon, creating markets for clean technology, and delivering new green jobs that reduce emissions and increase prosperity.

Every one of those achievements was not just great news for our country and our planet, but another arrow in the quiver of our fantastic team in Glasgow—a team led by the COP26 President, my right hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma). From the moment that he picked up the COP reins, he has been absolutely tireless in his efforts to secure the change that we need. Although I am pretty sure that what he really needs now is a well-earned break, I do not think that any of us here is going to be able to hold him back as he sets off pushing countries to go further still, and ensuring that the promises made in Glasgow are delivered and not diluted.

But success has many parents, so I want to say a huge thank you to the officials—in our own COP unit, in Downing Street and across Government, in UK embassies around the world and at the United Nations—who pulled out all the stops to make the event work and to shepherd through the agreements that have been reached. I also thank everybody on the ground at the Scottish Event Campus in Glasgow—security, catering, transport, the relentlessly cheery volunteers, the police from across the whole country who kept everybody safe from harm, the public health authorities who kept us safe from covid—and everyone in the Scottish Government. Above all, I want to say a big, big thank you to the people of Glasgow, who had to put up with so much disruption in their city and who welcomed the world all the same. I say to them: we could not have done it without you.

Is there still more to do? Well, of course there is. I am not for one moment suggesting that we can safely close the book on climate change. In fact, I can think of nothing more dangerous than patting ourselves on the back and telling ourselves that the job is done—because this job will not be complete until the whole world has not only set off on the goal to reach net zero but arrived at that destination: a goal that, even with the best of intentions from all actors, cannot be achieved overnight. While COP26 has filled me with optimism about our ability to get there, I cannot now claim to be certain that we will, because we have seen some countries that really should know better dragging their heels on their Paris commitments. But if—and it is still a massive if—they make good on their pledges, then I believe that Glasgow will be remembered as the place where we secured a historic agreement and the world began to turn the tide. Before Paris, we were on course for 4° of warming. After Paris, that number fell to a still catastrophically dangerous 3°. This afternoon, after the Glasgow climate pact, it stands close to 2°. It is still too high—the numbers are still too hot, the warming still excessive—but it is closer than we have ever been to the relative safety of 1.5°, and now we have an all-new roadmap to help us get there.

Aristotle taught us that virtue comes not from reasoning and instruction but from habit and from practice. So the success of the Glasgow climate pact lies not just in the promises but in the move that the whole world has now made from setting abstract targets to adopting the nuts-and-bolts programme of work to meet those targets and to reduce CO2 emissions. We are now talking about the how rather than the what, and getting into a habit of cutting CO2 that is catching on not just with Governments and businesses but with billions of people around the world. It is for that reason that I believe that COP26 in Glasgow has been a success and that 1.5° is still alive. That is something I believe that every person in our United Kingdom can and should take immense pride in, and I commend this statement to the House.