Labour has accused Boris Johnson of “managing down expectations” ahead of the crucial Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow after the prime minister said negotiations to reduce global emissions “might go wrong”.
Previously referring to the summit as a “turning point for the world”, the prime minister has conceded it is now “touch and go” whether Cop26 would achieve its aim of agreeing the emissions cuts for 2030 – a crucial step towards the goal of achieving net-zero emissions worldwide by 2050.
Speaking at a special press conference for children at No 10, the prime minister said it was “very, very far from clear that we will get the progress we need”.
His comments came after news that Russian president Vladimir Putin would not be attending the conference, and amid uncertainty over whether President Xi will make the trip, despite China being the biggest greenhouse gas emitter.
In recent months, the UK government’s commitment to reducing its own emissions has repeatedly been questioned, after it failed to halt plans for a new deep coal mine in Cumbria, gave the go-ahead to new oil drilling in the North Sea, and expanded funding to foreign fossil fuel projects.
Mr Johnson’s downbeat comments have angered opposition leaders and conservation groups.
Labour’s shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard told The Independent: “Ahead of Cop26, this prime minister and this government have been at best bystanders and at worst, contributors to global inaction.
“We cannot let Cop26 be the greenwash summit. Instead of trying to shift the goalposts and manage down expectations we need to see action in this decisive decade. The test of Glasgow has always been what concrete commitments countries will make for 2030.”
His comments come as figures from the UN reveal the world is “way off track” in cutting emissions and the planet is on course to see a “catastrophic” 2.7C rise in temperatures unless more is done to combat global heating.
New co-leader of the Green Party Carla Denyer told The Independent the prime minister’s stance was hypocritical and undermined the UK’s international standing.
She said: “The government’s lack of leadership and vision in the run up to this crucial climate summit has been nothing short of staggering. Doing too little too late undermines our status as a global leader.
“For the prime minister now to feign concern over not reaching an agreement is hypocrisy of the highest order.”
Connor Schwartz, a climate campaigner with Friends of the Earth, said the UK government had already had “years to lay the groundwork for success at these crucial talks by setting a good example for the world to follow”.
He added: “Instead, it has continued its support for fossil fuels, meaning the summit is now taking place against a backdrop of a slew of proposed new UK developments, from a coal mine in Cumbria to oil drilling in Surrey and the North Sea. Furthermore, it is still planning to support a climate-wrecking mega-gas project in Mozambique with hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers money.
“If the prime minister wants to see success at the talks, he should start by showing some real leadership and ending UK support for coal, oil and gas at home and overseas.”
Direct action campaign group Extinction Rebellion told The Independent that if the summit was a failure, Boris Johnson would “only have himself to blame”, and people should “be prepared to take to the streets”.
A spokesperson for the group said: “The government has had years to work on this and they’ve left everything to the last minute instead of treating it like the urgent priority that it is.”