KERMIT the frog and Sophocles. Typical Boris. The showman and the politician couldn’t resist mentioning both in his keynote climate change speech at the UN.
Urging the world to grow up, the PM insisted the Glasgow COP26 conference was a “turning point for humanity”. However, he undermined the earnestness of his message with those jokey quips about the Muppet Show.
During his trip to America, which had more highs than lows, much was made of China’s pledge to stop building coal-fired power stations in other countries under its Belt and Road infrastructure initiative.
Alok Sharma, the understated COP26 President, in welcoming President Xi’s move, tweeted happily: “It is clear the writing is on the wall for coal power.” But is it?
China’s premier made no mention about not building coal-fired power stations at home, where there are more than 1,000 merrily spewing out polluting gases every single day.
The People’s Republic is by far the world biggest polluter; contributing 28% of all CO2 emissions. Britain is ranked 17th in the world league table with 1.1%. Since 2000, China has been responsible for almost two-thirds of the growth in greenhouse gas emissions.
There are now 80 countries using coal power, up from 66 in 2000.
In the first six months of this year alone Beijing gave the go-ahead for more than 60 domestic coal-fired power stations. Currently, China burns half of the world’s coal.
Its climate plan is to reach peak carbon emissions by 2030 and then introduce a steady decline to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.
But the world cannot wait four more decades for Beijing to fall into line. The climate catastrophe is happening now and only likely to get worse. For the world to achieve limiting the temperature rise to 1.5C, global coal use needs to fall by around 80% this decade.
Tom Rivett-Carnac, ex-political strategist to Christiana Figueres, the former UN climate chief, yesterday somewhat depressingly observed: “Science tells us we need to reduce emissions by 50% by 2030 to keep to 1.5 degrees but what the UN has told us so far is we’re on course for a 16% rise in emissions by 2030. That would be devastating for all of us.”
With a focus on “coal, cars, cash, trees,” Boris was buoyed by America’s pledge to double its contribution to a $100bn fund to help poorer countries decarbonise, describing it as a “big lift” towards achieving that headline goal at Glasgow.
While the PM’s primary focus on his first prime ministerial trip stateside was the climate emergency, he was also intent on emitting a convivial mood about the Special Relationship, so the deep frustration over America’s refusal to delay the withdrawal from Afghanistan was forgotten.
Boris, Biden’s fellow self-confessed “train nut” travelling along Amtrak to Washington, was in a good mood as unexpectedly he was presented with a heartening gift from his host: from November the lifting of the ban on double-jabbed Britons entering the US.
However, the PM’s boosterism took a hit when he arrived in the capital as Uncle Joe made clear a UK-US trade deal – hailed as one of the impending benefits of a post-Brexit Global Britain – wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. The PM accepted reluctantly the President had a “lot of fish to fry”.
And after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made clear any threat to the Belfast Agreement would scupper a trade deal, Biden, proud of his Irish heritage, also underscored the importance of those “Irish protocols”.
So, Boris hit reverse gear and had to admit his buddy in the White House was only looking to make “incremental steps” to increased trading with the UK.
On the plus side, though, after British beef was back on American menus, it was announced so too was British lamb.
Diplomacy appeared to be working to some degree with our Anglospheric chums but not when it came to our closest neighbour.
Again, Boris couldn’t help himself. Responding to Emmanuel Macron’s ire over the Australia-UK-US defence pact, he blasted: “Donnez moi un break,” urging the French President to “prenez un grip”.
No doubt, this would have gone down like a seau de malade in the Elysee Palace.
Given all the post-Brexit tensions over the Northern Ireland Protocol, the PM appeared to be doing his level best to turn the entente cordiale into the entente hostile.
I just wonder if the UK had lost out on a £48bn defence deal, he would have regarded a closed security pact among Nato allies as “fundamentally a great step forward for global security” as he does Aukus.
French pique was scathingly expressed by Clement Beaune, France’s Europe minister, who suggested the defence deal had confirmed Britain’s “vassal status” regards America.
In contrast, Biden, who in his UN General Assembly address promised an era of intensified diplomacy, was on the blower to Macron to patch things up.
A joint statement did not include an outright apology from the White House but there was an acknowledgement communications could have been better and the French should have been consulted on Aukus.
The two leaders agreed to meet up in October in Europe, probably at the G20 summit in Rome ahead of COP26 in Glasgow, when Boris should resist the temptation to slip into undiplomatic franglais.
In the traditional exchange of gifts, Biden gave Boris a framed photograph of the two leaders enjoying the G7 summitry in Cornwall as well as a White House watch while the PM gave his host a copy of British Astronaut Tim Peake’s book “Hello, Is This Planet Earth?”
A pertinent question perhaps because if COP26 doesn’t deliver, the answer could be: not for much longer.