Boris Johnson will attack the “corrosive cynicism” on net zero that is hampering UK, and global, efforts to tackle the climate crisis, in a speech at the UN Cop27 climate summit on Monday.
In a swipe at members of his own Conservative party, the former UK prime minister will contrast the success and spirit of optimism at Cop26 in Glasgow last November with the failures of governments – including the UK – to follow through on promises since.
“Because the spike in oil and gas prices – and the consequent global inflation, the hikes in the cost of fertiliser and food, have had an impact here and everywhere, they have led some naysayers to a corrosive cynicism about net zero,” he will warn.
Soon after the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow ended last November, some rightwing members of the UK’s ruling Conservative party – including many who originally backed Johnson for prime minister in the 2019 general election, but combined to help push him out of office in July – began to try to use the climate emergency as a “culture war” issue.
They argued against the UK’s goal of reaching net zero emissions by 2050 and set up a net zero scrutiny group of MPs to advocate for relaxing or reneging on the legally binding target. Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, which sent already rising gas prices soaring to record levels, added fuel to their efforts.
Johnson, whose supporters have long claimed him as a green champion, will tell an audience at Cop27 on Monday: “We must end the defeatism that has crept in since last year, we must end Putin’s energy blackmail, we must keep up our campaign to end global dependence on hydrocarbons, and if we retain the spirit of creative and Promethean optimism we saw at Paris and Glasgow, then we can keep [the] 1.5C [limit on global temperature rises] alive.”
Johnson is attending Cop27 as the guest of the Egyptian hosts. The prime minister, Rishi Sunak will also attend the Cop27 summit, having U-turned on his initial decision to snub the summit, which 110 world leaders will attend.
He will hold meetings with French president, Emmanuel Macron, Italy’s prime minister, Georgia Meloni, and President William Ruto of Kenya.
He is also expected to raise with the Egyptian government the issue of Alaa Abd El-Fattah, a British-Egyptian democracy activist and blogger who is on hunger strike in an Egyptian jail.
Sunak will commit the UK to triple its funding for countries to adapt to the effects of extreme weather, from £500m in 2019 to £1.5bn in 2025, but there will be no new money for climate finance – the spending will come from the £11.6bn budget already agreed before Cop26.
Sunak will say: “The world came together in Glasgow with one last chance to create a plan that would limit global temperatures to 1.5C [above pre-industrial levels]. The question today is: can we summon the collective will to deliver on those promises? I believe we can. By honouring the pledges we made in Glasgow, we can turn our struggle against climate change into a global mission for new jobs and clean growth. And we can bequeath our children a greener planet and a more prosperous future. That’s a legacy we could be proud of.”
He is expected to herald progress on a UK initiative to conserve the world’s existing forests, and on ways to help communities where many jobs are currently dependent on fossil fuels to move to clean energy, the so-called “just transition”.
Sir Keir Starmer, who is not at Cop27, will also mark the start of the conference by setting out proposals for clusters of net zero industry centred on steel, cement, ceramics and chemicals in areas including Humber and Teesside, Merseyside, Grangemouth and south Wales.
Labour’s proposals would result in at least £1bn more invested in greening industry in the UK than under Conservative plans, Starmer will say. The money would come from a proposed National Wealth Fund.
Labour accused the government of “dragging its feet on climate at every turn”, leaving British industry behind in the race for the clean and efficient technology of the future.
Ed Miliband, shadow climate change and net zero secretary, said: “The Tories have shown us over the past 12 years that they simply do not understand the scale of the [climate] emergency. If Rishi Sunak can’t provide leadership on the world stage, we cannot expect him to lead at home.”
Labour’s policies include an energy price freeze, paid for by a more effective windfall tax, along with a green prosperity plan for a national wealth fund and a national energy champion, GB Energy, to invest in renewable energy and nuclear power.
Miliband said: “This is a plan that will drive jobs, support industries, tackle the cost of living, and protect our home for future generations by tackling the climate crisis. There is a global race on for the jobs of the future, and Britain under the Tories is falling behind.”
About 110 heads of state and government are expected to gather in Sharm El-Sheikh on Monday for a two-day world leaders’ summit at the start of the fortnight of climate talks. The negotiations got off to a difficult start when countries stayed up to the early hours of Sunday morning wrangling over what should be on the agenda for the conference.
The vexed issue of loss and damage will be an official agenda item at the talks, which will allow discussions on how poor countries can be helped to recover from the ravages of extreme weather that they are already experiencing.
On Sunday, the UK formally handed over leadership of the global climate talks, a position it has held since the Cop26 summit in Glasgow last November, to Egypt.
Egypt’s foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, who will chair the Cop27 talks, said Egypt was determined to hold countries to account for their promises to tackle the climate crisis. He said: “We must not go beyond the point of no return [on the climate]. We must preserve our planet for future generations.”
Security has been tight in Sharm El-Sheikh, as world leaders began to arrive on Sunday night, and there are concerns among climate activists that their voices will not be heard at the talks.