'Things could get worse for a long time': PM warns G20 of 'dark ages' if climate change not tackled

"The lesson is that things can go backwards," the prime minister told ITV News's Political Editor Robert Peston, warning things could "get worse for a long time"

Humanity "can go backwards" if the world fails to urgently tackle climate change, Boris Johnson has warned as he appealed to the world’s leading economies to do more to cut emissions.

Standing in Rome’s Colosseum ahead of the summit of the G20 leaders, the prime minister likened the impact of unrestricted global warming to the fall of the Roman Empire.

He told ITV News: "You could not have a more vivid metaphor for the risk that humanity is running. The Romans thought they were going to go on forever, they thought that their empire was going to flourish forever.

"Then wham, middle of the 5th century, they hit a complete crisis, uncontrolled immigration, you have the Dark Ages."

He said the "lesson" to world leaders should be that "things can go backwards" and humanity could find itself in "a convulsion of crisis where things get worse for a long time".

"There is no chance of getting an agreement next week to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees"

"Unless we fix climate change, unless we halt that massive growth in temperatures, that is the risk we run," he added.

Mr Johnson was in the Italian capital for a summit of the G20 leaders ahead of the crucial COP26 climate change talks which start in Glasgow on Monday.

He acknowledged that reaching an agreement that would keep alive the hope of restricting global warming to 1.5C would be difficult.

"Where we stand today there is no chance of stopping climate change next week," he told ITV News.

The COP27 climate conference - what you need to know

What is COP27? When and where will it be?

Each year, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meets at what is called the Conference of the Parties (abbreviated as COP) to discuss the world's progress on climate change and how to tackle it.

COP27 is the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties summit which will be held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt from November 6-18.

Who is going?

Leaders of the 197 countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) - a treaty that came into force in 1994 - are invited to the summit.

These are some of the world leaders that will be attending COP27:

  • UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is attending the conference, after initially saying he wouldn't as he was too busy focusing on the economy within his first weeks in office.

  • US President Joe Biden and his experienced climate envoy, John Kerry, will appear at the talks.

  • France President Emmanuel Macron will also be among the heads of state from around the world staying in Egypt.

King Charles III will not be attending COP27, despite being a staunch advocate for the environment. The decision was made jointly by Buckingham Palace and former prime minister Liz Truss.

Elsewhere, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping will not attend the talks just as they decided to do for COP26.

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What is it hoping to achieve?

1. Ensure full implementation of the Paris Agreement and putting negotiations into concrete actions - included within this is the target of limiting global warming to well below 2C.

2. Cementing progress on the critical workstreams of mitigation, adaptation, finance and loss and damage, while stepping up finance notably to tackle the impacts of climate change.

3. Enhancing the delivery of the principles of transparency and accountability throughout the UN Climate Change process.

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"There is no chance of getting an agreement next week to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees."

However, he said "if everybody gets their act together", COP26 could act as a "weigh station" that will "keep alive that dream" of keeping global warming to 1.5C, in accordance with the Paris Agreement.

The four areas he hopes world leaders will make progress with are "coal, cars , cash, trees" and said next week is a "real moment" to halt the speed of climate change.

Boris Johnson fist bumps Emmanuel Macron at the G20 summit, despite their nations' row over fishing Credit: PA

“If you increase the temperatures of the planet by four degrees or more as they are predicted to do remorselessly, you’ll have seen the graphs, then you produce these really very difficult geopolitical events,” he went on to tell Channel 4 News.

“You produce shortages, you produce desertification, habitat loss, movements… contests for water, for food, huge movements of peoples.

“Those are things that are going to be politically very very difficult to control.

PA Graphics

In a round of broadcast interviews, the PM said he still rated the chances of success in Glasgow as no more than six out of 10.

A number of key players, including China’s President Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, have said they will not be attending either the G20 or Cop26, although they are expected to send delegations.

Mr Johnson had a lengthy telephone conversation with Mr Xi before leaving London on Friday in which he pressed the leader of the world’s biggest emitter to go further in reducing emissions – although it was unclear how much of an impact he was able to make.

The prime minister’s spokesman said was still important to keep making progress, insisting the UK was leading by example with the publication earlier this month of the world’s first comprehensive net zero strategy.