Boris Johnson admits he 'doesn't get' climate change, says sacked No 10 adviser

JOE MURPHY
·4-min read
Prime Minister Boris Johnson during an event to launch the 2019 United Nations Climate Change conference: POOL/AFP via Getty Images
Prime Minister Boris Johnson during an event to launch the 2019 United Nations Climate Change conference: POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Boris Johnson admitted he “doesn’t really get” climate change, the former president of a United Nations environmental summit being hosted by Britain said in a blistering attack today.

Claire O’Neill, who was fired by No 10 last week, was scathing about the Government’s green credentials, saying it was “playing at Oxford United levels and we need to be Liverpool”. She also said the Prime Minister could not be trusted to keep his promises.

She spoke out two hours before Mr Johnson joined Sir David Attenborough on stage at the Science Museum to set out his ambitions for the COP 26 summit that will see 200 world leaders gather in Glasgow in November.

Mr Johnson stressed his ambition to make Britain a net zero-emissions country by 2050.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (L) and British broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough (Getty Images)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (L) and British broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough (Getty Images)

He said: “The temperature of our planet has gone up by one degree and it is predicted to get three degrees hotter.

In the hurricanes, bushfires, the acidification of the oceans, the evidence is becoming overwhelming and we know we must act.”

He announced that the Government is bring forward a ban on selling new petrol and diesel cars to 2035, five years earlier, which will mean millions changing to electric cars on what the AA called a “challenging” timetable.

“We are leading a global revolution in renewable energy,” said the PM.

However, former clean energy minister Ms O’Neill said Mr Johnson’s “warm statements” were not matched by leadership.

Claire O’Neill (PA)
Claire O’Neill (PA)

She said: “He has admitted to me that he doesn’t really understand it. He doesn’t really get it, is what he said.”

She added on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that a Cabinet committee on the summit had not yet met. “We have seen a huge lack of leadership and engagement,” she said.

“Our efforts right now are somewhere around League One. We are playing at Oxford United levels when we need to be Liverpool if we are going to do what the world needs us to.”

Ms O’Neill revealed that COP 26 might have to move from Glasgow because of a row between Downing Street and Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon, adding: “The yah boo of this has to stop.”

In a 1,900-word letter to the PM, she said “awful, false and distorted defamatory allegations” had been spread about her and blamed “apparent dark ops” by No 10 propagandists.

The former minister, who attended Cabinet, is considering suing over her dismissal, news delivered in a phone call on Friday from Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s controversial aide.

She said acidly: “My advice to anybody to whom Boris is making promises — whether voters, world leaders, ministers or employees — is to get it in writing, get a lawyer to look at it and make sure the money is in the bank.”

Downing Street declined to respond to Ms O’Neill’s specific allegations, saying only: “We thank her for her work.”

Cabinet minister Michael Gove rejected her claims and told Sky News: “The very first item on the agenda in the new year when Cabinet met was the conference in Glasgow in November.

Michael Gove arrives in Downing Street (Getty Images)
Michael Gove arrives in Downing Street (Getty Images)

“We have been working hard to ensure we do several things, that Britain sets an example. The PM is explaining today some of steps we are taking.

“We must make sure countries live up to their promises to reduce carbon emissions and extend the range of things we do to deal with this so it is not just about transport and energy.”

Autumn’s summit will be the biggest international event staged in the UK this year. It will kick off a year of climate action across the UK and, if successful, will set an agenda for other countries to de-carbonising in years ahead.

Nick Mabey, of climate change think-tank E3G, said the UK’s presidency had got off to a bumpy start with the decision to dismiss Ms O’Neill.

AA president Edmund King said the new target on car sales is very challenging. “We must question whether we will have a sufficient supply of a cross-section of zero-emissions vehicles in less than 15 years,” he said.

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