Boris Johnson tells sluggish G20 leaders 'climate apocalypse' would collapse civilisation

Prime Minister Boris Johnson warns G20 leaders of climate catastrophe as ‘we could see our civilisation, our world, go backwards’ – but China has already refused to commit to a new emissions target

Boris and Carrie Johnson arrive in Italy for the G20
Boris and Carrie Johnson arrive in Italy for the G20

Boris Johnson will tomorrow issue an 11th-hour plea to sluggish world leaders to stop a climate “apocalypse” before it is too late.

As he headed to the G20 summit in Rome, the PM warned society could fall like the Roman Empire at “terrifying speed” if global warming was not slowed dramatically.

He said that in a lengthy phone call he had urged China’s President Xi to go further on climate targets.

The two-day G20 talks will begin this morning with frantic diplomacy before Cop26 kicks off on Monday.

Downing Street said Mr Johnson would demand “concrete steps on coal, cars, cash and trees” from leaders of the world’s richest nations, including US President Joe Biden, who met Pope Francis in Rome yesterday. But neither President Xi Jinping nor Russia’s Vladimir Putin are expected at either summit, with Xi speaking by video link at the G20.

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Activist Greta Thunberg joins a fuel protest in City of London


Jamie Lorriman)

Talking to reporters on a flight to the G20, Mr Johnson said Rome reminded him “things can go backwards at a really terrifying speed”.

He said: “You saw that with the decline and fall of the Roman Empire and I’m afraid to say it’s true today.

“Unless we get this right in tackling climate change we could see our civilisation, our world, go backwards.

“And we could consign future generations to a life far less agreeable than our own. We could consign our children, our grandchildren, our great grandchildren to a life where there are huge movements of populations, huge migrations, and shortages of food, shortages of water, and conflict, caused by climate change.

“There is absolutely no question this is a reality we must face up to.”

Pope Francis met with US President Joe Biden during a private audience at The Vatican



Comparing the struggle to a football match, he said: “I would say that humanity is about 5-1 down at half time. We’ve got a long way to go, but we can do it. We have the ability to come back, but it’s going to take a huge amount of effort.”

The PM’s spokesman said vulnerable countries were “increasingly experiencing apocalyptic flooding, wildfires, heatwaves and the prospect of their economies being devastated thanks to climate change”.

He said: “On Monday, G20 leaders will come face to face with leaders from those countries at Cop26 and will have to account for their actions. If we don’t act now, it will be too late.”

Rich nations have failed to meet a target to give $100billion – £73bn – a year to poorer nations by 2020, with suggestions it will only reach that level of funding in 2023.

Greta Thunberg examines the minuscule beetle that was named in her honour at the Natural History Museum


Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images)

And Boris Johnson risks failing in his bid to “keep 1.5 alive” limiting global warming to less than 1.5C, with a UN report suggesting it will be 2.7C by 2100.

To keep to the 1.5C target the world must cut 28 gigatons of CO2 emissions by 2030 and implement new Nationally Determined Contributions. But China’s new NDCs announced this week did not increase its existing targets.

Boris Johnson said that during his “extensive” call with President Xi he urged him to bring forward China’s target to reach peak emissions before 2030. He said: “They’ve said before 2030. I pushed a bit on that point, ‘25 would be better than 2030’. I wouldn’t say he committed on that.”

No10 refused to say how many gigatons would be a good outcome from Cop26. It is thought the UK will see a commitment to cut eight gigatons as a success.

Global temperature difference from 1850-1900 average


Press Association Images)

A draft seen by Reuters suggests G20 leaders will agree “immediate action must be taken to keep 1.5 within reach”. But after Mr Johnson said Cop26 was “touch and go”, his spokesman said: “Too many ­countries are doing too little.”

No10 said more than 80% of the global economy was now covered by net zero commitments, up 30%, “thanks to the UK’s Cop26 leadership”. But Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy said: “2021 should have been the year the UK Government stepped up, showed genuine global leadership and real ambition.

“But as G20 leaders meet in Italy the backdrop is of weakened transatlantic ties, trashed relationships with our European neighbours and a litany of broken promises.” Climate activist Greta Thunberg joined a “climate justice memorial” in the City of London yesterday to protest against the financing of fossil fuel industries.

Scene at Cop26 site on Friday



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She also visited the Natural History Museum, where she saw a tiny new species of beetle named Nelloptodes gretae in her honour.

Mr Johnson said he had been on a “road to Damascus” after his past scepticism about climate change.

The PM said a briefing from scientists on increasing global temperatures “was a very important moment for me”. He said: “It’s very hard to dispute.”

Asked if he was eating less meat to cut his carbon footprint, he said: “I’m eating a bit less of everything.”

The crucial days in Glasgow

Monday, Nov 1: PM will greet 120 leaders, give speech. First meeting involves major polluters and vulnerable nations. China’s President Xi Jinping to speak via videolink.

Tues 2: US President Joe Biden hosts meeting on building back a better world. Prince Charles to host reception for leaders.

Wed 3: Richer nations will discuss $100bn pledge to help vulnerable countries.

Thurs 4: Cop President Alok Sharma aims to “make coal history”.

Wed 10: Transport day. UK will ask other nations to phase out gas-guzzling vehicles.

Fri 12: Leaders to seal deals on emission cuts.

Top 10 fuel burning countries

2,395 MILLION TONS in 2012 – China

1,403 – US

596 – India

449 – Russia

336 – Japan

200 – Germany

159 – Iran

157 – North Korea

146 – Indonesia

144 – Canada

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