BORIS Johnson’s inability for his Government to secure a more meaningful commitment on ending coal at COP26 was “hampered by his actions at home”, Sir Keir Starmer has claimed.
The UK Government, which hosted the Glasgow summit as president, was forced to conceded late changes to the global agreement when India, backed by China, watered down a commitment to “phase out” coal to simply a “phase down” the harmful fossil fuel.
But speaking in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister said the COP26 summit had “proved the doubters and the cynics wrong”, boasting that “we have secured a global commitment to phase down coal”.
But Mr Johnson admitted that “right until the very end, there was the real prospect that no agreement would be reached”, as he put the success down to “months of concerted British diplomacy”.
He added: “Again and again, the task of our negotiators was made earlier by the fact the UK wasn’t asking anyone to do anything that we aren’t doing ourselves.”
The Prime Minister also issued a “big, big thank you to the people of Glasgow” who he stressed “had to put up with so much disruption in their city and to welcome the world”.
He added: “I say to the people of Glasgow, we could not have done it without you.”
But the Prime Minister added there is still much more work to do – with the UK Government holding the COP presidency until next year’s summit in Egypt.
He said: “This job will not be complete until the whole world has not only set off on the goal to reach net zero but arrived at that destination – a goal that even with the best of intentions from all actors cannot be achieved overnight.
“While COP26 has filled me with optimism about our ability to get there, I cannot now claim to be certain that we will, because we have seen some countries who really should know better dragging their heels about their Paris commitments.
“If, and it is still a massive, if, they make good on their pledges, then I believe that Glasgow will be remembered as the place where we secured a historic agreement and the world began to turn the tide.”
But the Labour leader labelled the deal secured in Glasgow as “modest progress” in ensuring global warming is limited below the 1.5C tipping point.
He said: “The pledges made in Glasgow for 2030, even if all fully implemented, represent less than 25% of the ambition required.
“Rather than a manageable 1.5C, they put us on track for a devastating 2.4C.”
Sir Keir stressed that “those who have dragged their feet the most”, such as China and India, “bare the greatest responsibility”.
But he warned that “the summit was held back by the Prime Minister’s guileless boosterism”, which “only served to embolden the big emitters.”
The Labour leader pointed to Mr Johnson labelling Australia’s plan, which is in line with an unthinkable 4C of warming, as “heroic”.
Sir Keir said: “The Prime Minister had little chance of exerting influence over the other big emitters.”
The leader of the opposition called on the Prime Minister to ensure there were “no free passes” for major emitters, “including our friends”.
He added: “We are doing a trade deal with Australia where we have allowed them to drop Paris temperature commitments. That was a mistake.
“His ability to lead on the issue internationally has been hampered by his actions at home.
“It has never made sense for the Government to be flirting with a new coal mine or to greenlight the Cambo oil field.”
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford stressed that if the UK Government is to ensure commitments are followed through by nations, “the example of that leadership needs to begin at home”.
He said: “Prior to recess, the Prime Minister made a commitment to go and look again at the issue of investment in tidal stream energy.
“So now that he has presumably looked at this, can he today commit to a ring-fenced fund of £71 million for tidal stream energy as part of the contracts for difference process?
“And finally on carbon capture and storage.
“Last week Ineos added their voice to the growing shock and anger that tack 1 status for the Acorn project was rejected by this UK government – so will the Prime Minister reverse this devastating decision and back the Scottish cluster?”
The Prime Minster said the Acorn project in the Scottish cluster for carbon capture “remains a strong contender” for funding.
He added that he was “interested in tidal power”.
Mr Johnson said: “I think he’s right that there should be investment by the Government in making sure that we have a tidal power industry in this country in the way that we have a wind power and sola power industry.
“All the evidence is that the costs come down.”