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Boris Johnson shouldn't be allowed anywhere near COP26

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Boris Johnson shouldn't be allowed anywhere near COP26

Boris Johnson doesn’t understand climate change. He has shown a lack of leadership and engagement on the issue. And he can’t be trusted to keep his promises.

Not my words, but the conclusion of a damning letter, written by Claire O’Neill, the former president of COP26 in Glasgow, to the Prime Minister.

It’s blistering stuff, with O’Neill – known as Perry during her time in government – warning the UK is “miles off track” in its response to the climate emergency and that promises of action “are not close to being met”.

It was bad for the PM, but it soon got worse. Taking to Radio 4, O’Neill eviscerated him. As she put it: “My advice to anybody to whom Boris is making promises – whether it is voters, world leaders, ministers, employees or indeed, to family members – is to get it in writing, get a lawyer to look at it and make sure the money is in the bank.”

And O’Neill wasn’t done, with the former MP then arguing that Johnson’s personal animosity towards Nicola Sturgeon was threatening the success of the climate talks, before suggesting the PM was considering relocating the event to an English location because of “ballooning costs”.

Tory spinners, of course, put O’Neill’s response down to the fact she was sacked from her position earlier this month. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, sure, but it’s not just O’Neill that has reason to rage.

Ask yourself, who do you believe? O’Neill, who also served as Minister of State for Energy and Clean Growth from 2017-2019, or a man with a list of failings, both personal and political, so long that it’s actually hard to find space to include them all.

And that’s before you even start on his record on the environment specifically. Well, the good news is that it’s all public. One Telegraph column is particularly revealing, with Johnson beginning with a story about being forced to break up a ping-pong game with some “fit young staffers” because he was too sweaty, before moving into a meandering, self-indulgent journey through his musings on climate.

The crux of his argument – and it’s really worth reading the whole thing – was that the outcome of climate talks was determined by surrounding weather conditions. Paris saw warm weather in December, he said, so led to a decent climate deal, while the failure of Copenhagen was put down to heavy snowfall.

It’s really not a good column. But worst is the conclusion: “It is fantastic news that the world has agreed to cut pollution and help people save money, but I am sure that those global leaders were driven by a primitive fear that the present ambient warm weather is somehow caused by humanity; and that fear – as far as I understand the science – is equally without foundation. There may be all kinds of reasons why I was sweating at ping-pong – but they don’t include global warming.”

Of course time makes fools of us all, and every columnist runs the risk of being ridiculed by hindsight. But this was written in December 2015. Five years ago. Everyone knew what was happening then. Everyone except Boris Johnson.

It’s terrifying. This is the single biggest threat facing the planet, and the man tasked with leading the UK to rise to meet it has shown himself entirely unsuitable for the task. The only question is whether he doesn’t get it, or doesn’t want to.

And while it’s not clear what could come of the climate talks, it is clear there is one man who should be nowhere near them. Or to put it another way, it’s not just O’Neill who should be angry.

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