Boris Johnson has criticised net zero “naysayers” who want to “frack the hell out of the British countryside” in his first appearance at the COP27 climate summit in Egypt.
Speaking at an event hosted by The New York Times on the first day of the summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, the former prime minister said the fight against climate change had become a “collateral victim” of the Ukraine war, which caused “naysayers to adopt a corrosive cynicism about net zero”.
In a swipe at other Conservatives – including his successor Liz Truss who had planned to lift the ban on fracking in England – Mr Johnson declared that it is “not the moment to ban the campaign for net zero” despite the ongoing energy crisis.
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Returning to the international stage, he also warned that countries “should not be lurching back to an addiction or a dependence on hydrocarbons” if they wish to keep global warming to 1.5C, adding: “The solution is to move ahead with a green approach.”
Mr Johnson said nations must join together to “tackle this nonsense head on”.
“This is not the moment to give in to Putin’s energy blackmail,” the former PM told the audience.
“Yes, of course, we do need to use hydrocarbons in the transitional period and, yes, in the UK there is more that we can do with our own domestic resources.
“However, this is not the moment to abandon the campaign for net zero, this is not the moment to turn our backs on renewable technology.”
Mr Johnson also seemed to reject calls for climate reparations – sometimes referred to as “loss and damage” payments – which is a policy widely expected to dominate talks in Egypt.
“Let’s look to the future, to trigger private sector involvement, I’d much rather look at what we can do now to help countries going forward,” he said.
‘I am here as a footsoldier’
Describing himself as “the spirit of Glasgow COP26”, the former prime minister called for the legacy of last year’s climate summit hosted in the UK to be “taken forward” as a “joint global endeavour”.
“Glasgow was a big moment, I want to see that legacy, it’s crucial the steering wheel is yanked back a bit to tackling climate change, clean green solutions to achieve net zero, that’s what I’m here to do,” he said.
“We have got to end the defeatism, end Putin’s energy blackmail, keep up our campaign to end global dependence on hydrocarbons and keep 1.5C alive.”
Probed on why he confirmed his attendance at COP27 before Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had, Mr Johnson replied: “I am here as a footsoldier and a spear carrier of the Conservatives… I am here in a purely supportive role and to remind people of the work we did in Glasgow which I think was fantastic.”
Last week, Mr Sunak reversed his decision to skip the COP27 climate, bowing to pressure from environmental campaigners and MPs.
‘Glad PM is here’
Having originally said he would not attend due to “other pressing domestic commitments” back home – including preparing for the autumn statement on November 17 – Mr Sunak changed his position on Thursday, saying there is “no long-term prosperity without action on climate change”.
Asked if he was concerned when Mr Sunak’s position was not to attend the climate conference, Mr Johnson added: “Look, the PM is here and I am glad he is here. He has made an outstanding speech the other day and I think he is on the right line.”
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Mr Johnson added that he supports what the government is doing back in the UK to help people facing rising bills.
“In the short term of course you have to abate the cost, the impact for those who are feeling it – and that is why I support what the government is doing, what Rishi is doing, to help people through tough times,” he said.
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‘People are struggling’
But he reiterated his view that now is not the time for people to “go weak and wobbly on net zero”
“People are struggling, people are hurting, they can feel the impact of the spike in energy prices. The answer is not to renew our addition to hydrocarbons, it’s to accelerate the adoption of green solutions,” Mr Johnson said.
Ahead of the US midterm elections this week, Mr Johnson also noted that “it is very important for the rest of the world that America stays with the programme on climate change”.
Meanwhile, citing examples of recent extreme weather around the world, the former PM suggested that soaring temperatures back in July in the UK may have influenced the “unexpected political turmoil” in Westminster which saw him being ousted from Number 10.
“Temperatures in London reached 40 degrees, which is unprecedented and unbearable, perhaps even contributing who knows to unexpected political turmoil that we saw in Westminster at that time,” he said.
World leaders are attending the latest UN climate talks in Egypt amid tensions over who will pay for the damage caused by global warming.
US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron are among those others at the event.
The climate summit will end on Friday 18 November.