COP26 president denies UK rift over climate

Manchester (United Kingdom) (AFP) –


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's pointman for the COP26 climate summit insisted Tuesday that his own Conservative party was on board with the ambition of saving the planet.

COP26 president Alok Sharma said that despite grumbling on the party's right wing at its annual conference, MPs all saw the potential for a green economic revolution.

"Sometimes people don't perceive the Conservatives as leading on this," the former business minister said on the sidelines of the conference in Manchester, northwest England.

"Cabinet colleagues actually understand why it's vitally important to get this right," he said, ahead of the two-week COP26 summit in Scotland starting on October 31.

"And we're seeing the benefits of that coming through in terms of growth, in terms of cutting emissions.

"This is a real, real opportunity to create jobs, to create growth, to have a healthier country, a healthier planet."

In his speech closing the Conservative gathering on Wednesday, Johnson is also expected to talk up Britain's action on climate change and the need for global coordination.

Touring exhibitors' stands at the conference on Tuesday, Johnson rode an e-bike, got in a electric tractor, and played with a puzzle to assemble a zero-carbon energy house.

But at the Manchester gathering as a whole, the topic of climate change has been relegated to the back burner this week.

Sharma was not given one of the headline speaking slots.

And the issue was absent from finance minister Rishi Sunak's keynote address on Monday, when he laid out a strategy to fix Britain's finances and focus on tech-led growth after the Covid crisis.

- 'Irresponsible crusties' -

The omission was a "damaging sign" ahead of COP26 in Glasgow, commented Rebecca Newsom, head of policy for Greenpeace UK.

"Coughing up more cash for green infrastructure now would save enormous costs later and create millions of new jobs across the UK," she said.

Britain's COP26 president Alok Sharma denies that the ruling Conservatives have put climate on the back burner
Britain's COP26 president Alok Sharma denies that the ruling Conservatives have put climate on the back burner DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS AFP

"At a time when we need spending commitments for a zero carbon future, Rishi sounds like he's preparing to take a big step backwards."

Nor did Foreign Secretary Liz Truss use the C word -- climate -- in her own speech on Sunday, save for a fleeting promise to support "greener" growth and "clean infrastructure" in developing countries.

In contrast the B word -- Brexit -- has been a recurrent theme for delegates of Johnson's party, adamant that current problems associated with the EU divorce will pass.

Brexit minister David Frost admonished the "anti-transport, anti-car" lobby’s "anti-growth ideologies" and "persistent miserabilism", arguing that human ingenuity and technological innovation will save the day.

Interior minister Priti Patel used her own speech on Tuesday to promise tougher police and court action against climate protestors who have been blockading UK roads and whom Johnson characterised as "irresponsible crusties".

"I will not tolerate so-called eco-warriors trampling over our way of life and draining police resources," she said to applause from the Tory faithful.