Boris Johnson has previously claimed climate change is “very little to do with man-made global warming” in direct contradiction of the science, writes Martyn McLaughlin.
It may be expressly targeted at reducing carbon dioxide emissions, but it is hard to judge the UK Government’s announcement that a ban on selling new petrol, diesel or hybrid cars is to be brought forward five years to 2035 as anything other than a smokescreen.
The revised policy, unveiled by Boris Johnson at a speech to launch the UN climate change conference, COP26, in Glasgow later this year is a step in the right direction, though hardly a radical measure.
At least seven countries have vowed to enact a similar ban by 2030, while Norway is leading the way, having set its red line for 2025.
However, the announcement likely had the desired effect of distracting attention from Claire O’Neill, who only last week was ousted as the president of COP26, a decision which encouraged her to tell some home truths about Mr Johnson and his environmental credentials.
The former Conservative minister warned that there was a “huge lack of leadership and engagement” from the UK Government, and that Mr Johnson himself was an unconvincing champion of COP26.
“The Prime Minister has made incredibly warm statements about this over the years,” Ms O’Neill explained. “He’s also admitted to me that he doesn’t really understand it. He ‘doesn’t really get it’, I think that is what he said.”
Spiteful and short-sighted
Ms O’Neill’s dire warnings about Mr Johnson’s ignorance and apparent apathy regarding the greatest crisis facing our planet should come as no surprise.
A letter she sent to the Prime Minister indicated he had toyed with relocating COP26 to England due to animosity with Nicola Sturgeon.
With hotels already booked and an extensive security operation underway, that is unlikely to come to pass. But the fact Ms O’Neill gave voice to such fears suggests Mr Johnson is sufficiently spiteful and short-sighted to prioritise constitutional squabbles over the climate. After all, the future of the Union is the single biggest threat to his premiership.
But there is another, uncomplicated reason to explain his unenlightened position – Mr Johnson is the most prominent climate denier in the country.
A cursory examination of his actions and remarks over the past decade offers an instructive, if depressing insight, into his thinking on the issue.
Ten years ago, he penned a column for the Daily Telegraph, introducing its readers to the work of Piers Corbyn, the astrophysicist and brother of the Labour leader.
The less well-known Mr Corbyn describes himself as a “world-leading weather and climate forecaster” and runs a firm called WeatherAction, which flexes its meteorological muscle by including on its website – a headache-inducing GeoCities nightmare – mocked-up Charlie Brown cartoons poking fun at “liberal” scientists.
He specialises in long-range forecasts using what he describes as a “revolutionary world-leading solar-based method”. Mr Johnson is among his supporters, describing him as someone who “gets it right again and again”.
“He seems to get it right about 85 per cent of the time and serious business people – notably in farming – are starting to invest in his forecasts,” Mr Johnson wrote.
Two years later, he returned to the topic, more enthused than ever by “the world’s foremost meteorological soothsayer”. Mr Johnson relayed his predictions, which included a “deluge” of heavy rain throughout that summer’s London Olympics (an event marked by sunshine and light showers).
Johnson sings praises of this Corbyn
Undaunted, Mr Johnson sang Mr Corbyn’s praises again the following January, platforming the notion that “global temperature depends not on concentrations of CO2 but on the mood of our celestial orb”.
As recently as 2015, he penned two further puff pieces. The first, in the Telegraph, bemoaned the unseasonably warm winter, but stressed it “has nothing to do with global warming”.
The second, published in The Sun, once again promoted Mr Corbyn’s doctrine. “He says climate is all to do with that great flaming ball of gas that controls our lives, and very little to do with man-made global warming,” Mr Johnson observed. “Is he right? As readers of this paper will know, you should never underestimate the power of the Sun.”
Mr Johnson’s wit has never again reached such lofty heights, and he has been quiet ever since regarding Mr Corbyn’s discredited theories, which is a problem in itself. Despite being given ample opportunity, he has refused to renounce his denials of climate science. Whatever platitudes he offers in the run-up to COP26 must be viewed in this context.
Indeed, the Prime Minister has of late happily accepted engagements and backing from individuals and organisations with a history of opposing climate science.
In 2018, he flew to the US to speak at a dinner hosted by the American Enterprise Institute, a libertarian thinktank; only last year, his leadership campaign accepted £25,000 from Bristol Port, co-owned by Terence Mordaunt, director of the Global Warming Policy Forum.
COP26 is a chance for Mr Johnson to play statesman, but there is a decade’s worth of evidence to show he is not remotely sincere about engaging with the climate emergency.
If anything, the turmoil of Brexit is a golden opportunity for him to appease his backers and free-market ideologues by cutting back on environmental regulations. Don’t be fooled by empty promises to the contrary.