Cop26: ‘It’s one minute to midnight’, says Boris Johnson

British PM to tell leaders of need to act on climate disaster as fishing row continues

Boris Johnson will tell world leaders that "it's one minute to midnight" as they gather in Glasgow on Monday at the start of a two-week meeting United Nations experts view as crucial to averting climate disaster. The British prime minister will call on them to take concrete steps to phase out the use of coal, accelerate the transition to electric vehicles and halt deforestation.

“Humanity has long since run down the clock on climate change. It’s one minute to midnight and we need to act now. If we don’t get serious about climate change today, it will be too late for our children to do so tomorrow,” he is expected to say.

“We have to move from talk and debate and discussion to concerted, real-world action on coal, cars, cash and trees. Not more hopes and targets and aspirations, valuable though they are, but clear commitments and concrete timetables for change. We need to get real about climate change and the world needs to know when that’s going to happen.”

The Cop26 opened formally in Glasgow on Sunday as G20 leaders in Rome called for meaningful and effective action against climate change but made few concrete commitments. The Glasgow meeting's success depends on richer countries committing $100 billion a year to help poorer countries to make the changes needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


Money pledge

Britain has halved its annual international aid budget until at least 2024 but Mr Johnson will on Monday pledge an extra £1 billion in climate finance by 2025. Speaking at the opening ceremony in Glasgow on Sunday, Cop26 president Alok Sharma promised transparency and inclusivity during the talks.

“We can move the negotiations forward. We can launch a decade of ever-increasing ambition and action. Together, we can seize the enormous opportunities for green growth, for good green jobs, for cheaper, cleaner power. But we must hit the ground running to develop the solutions we need. And that work starts today. We will succeed, or fail, as one,” he said.

Britain's presidency of the Cop26 has been overshadowed by a row between London and Paris over post-Brexit access to British coastal fishing waters for French boats. France has threatened to stop British boats from unloading their catch at French ports and imposing more onerous checks on British lorries if its fishers do not receive more licences from authorities in Jersey and Guernsey.

Conflicting accounts

A 30-minute meeting between Mr Johnson and French president Emmanuel Macron on the margins of the G20 in Rome on Sunday failed to resolve the dispute and the two sides gave conflicting accounts of what happened. French government sources said the two leaders agreed to de-escalate the conflict and to hold discussions "in the coming hours and days on fishing licences".

But Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said Britain’s position that France’s threats were in breach of the post-Brexit trade agreement was unchanged and that the requirements for fishing licences would not be relaxed.

“It will be for the French to decide whether they want to step away from the threats they’ve made in recent days about breaching the Brexit agreement,” he said. “We stand ready to work with the French government and individual fishermen on further licences if they have the requisite evidence, but our position has not changed. So there’s no further work from us.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times