COP26: There is 'no excuse' for world leaders to back out of climate action, says Boris Johnson

ITV News' Correspondent Rachel Younger reports from COP26 in Glasgow

There is "no excuse" for world leaders to back out of climate commitments now as "we all know what is at stake", Boris Johnson has said.

The prime minister told the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow on Tuesday that governments must "pull out all the stops" to reduce environmental damage.

Mr Johnson urged world leaders to take action to limit global warming to 1.5C to prevent the most catastrophic effects of climate change.

Hours later the US and China issued a joint declaration from Glasgow, vowing to fight the climate crisis.

He referenced the president of Palau - a Pacific island - who said last week that his country will suffer so much from global warming that world leaders "might as well bomb" the island if they don't intend to follow through on their climate promises.

Boris Johnson also expressed frustration that many governments had made commitments during the 2015 Paris Climate talks, without taking action.

"It’s very frustrating to see countries that have spent six years conspicuously patting themselves on the back for signing [the Paris Climate Agreement]", he said.

"Vulnerable nations and future generations are demanding payment here now in Glasgow", he added.

Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr (left) told world leaders his country is especially vulnerable to the worst effects of climate change. Credit: PA

With the COP26 climate talks ending on Friday, the prime minister said the world is now "closer than it has ever been" to taking comprehensive climate action, and that saving the planet "is now within reach".

"My question to [world leaders] is will you help us do that?", he said.

"Will you help us grasp this opportunity, or will you stand in the way?"

Speaking on ITV's Peston show after the PM's speech on Wednesday, Labour Ed Miliband accused Mr Johnson of only going to the summit this week as "a day trip".

The shadow business and energy secretary said only "modest progress" had been made by the UK at the summit, adding we are still "miles from where we need to be".

But Allegra Stratton, the PM's COP26 spokesperson, refuted the claim the visit was a "day trip". She said it would "not be appropriate" for Mr Johnson as Alok Sharma was the COP President and "we, the UK, are the UN for this period and we have to broker it for 196 countries.

"Alok is running this process. The Prime Minister was here for the World Leaders' Summit," she added stressing progress had been made at that event.

The COP26 climate conference - what you need to know

What is COP26? 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.

COP26 is the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties summit which will be held in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November.

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 COP26:

  • US President Joe Biden, climate envoy John Kerry, climate adviser and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, and 10 other US cabinet officials.

  • Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison. In the days leading up to COP26, Mr Morrison committed Australia to a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Prince Charles, Prince William, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge are also attending. The Queen has withdrawn from visiting after being advised by her doctors to rest - she will address the conference virtually instead.

China's President Xi Jinping, Russia's President Vladimir Putin, and President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil are among the leaders that have decided not to travel to Glasgow.

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What is it hoping to achieve?

1. Achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels - Countries are being encouraged to set ambitious 2030 emissions targets. They are also encouraged to accelerate the phase-out of coal, clamp down on deforestation, speed up the switch to electric vehicles and encourage investment in renewables.

2. Protect natural habitats and communities from climate change disasters

3. Finances for a greener future - In 2009, developed countries were asked to keep to their promises to contribute at least $100 billion (£72.5 billion) per year by 2020 to protect the planet. In 2015, it was agreed that the goal would be extended to 2025.

However, new analysis shows the goal is unlikely to have been met last year and is on track to fall short in 2021 and 2022.

4. Getting all countries and organisations to work together to tackle the climate crisis

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Boris Johnson's speech comes after a UN environment expert said on Tuesday that countries have promised only half the cuts in greenhouse gases needed by 2030 to keep global warming to 1.5C.

The prime minister told ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston that hopes of rescuing climate action ambitions were "in the balance" and that it would be "tough" to get back on track.

"I still think we can achieve [1.5C] but I don't think by any means it is a done deal", he said.