Boris Johnson descends on Cop27 telling Sunak to oppose climate reparations

Former prime minister in Sharm El Sheikh to protect legacy of Britain's Cop26 presidency

Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends the COP27 U. N.  Climate Summit, Monday, Nov.  7, 2022, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.  (AP Photo / Peter Dejong)
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Former UK prime minister Boris Johnson returned to the limelight on Monday with a speech at the Cop27 summit in Egypt, saying he opposed the idea of reparations from historic polluters such as Britain.

It came as current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pushed the door open to paying countries affected by climate damage.

The debate over compensation, or “loss and damage” in UN jargon, is likely to be one of the most sensitive subjects at Cop27.

Developing countries say losses estimated at more than $500 billion should be covered by the rich countries who caused global warming.

A minister in Mr Sunak’s government said on Monday that Britain was “supportive of discussions” on the issue.

But Mr Johnson, speaking to an audience at a side event in Sharm El Sheikh, said: “I think that whole concept is tough. Who devises the reparations?

“Let’s look to the future — that’s what I think we should be doing. I’d much rather look at what we can do to help countries go forward now.”

Mr Johnson said there was no question that Britain, the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, had “put an awful lot of carbon into the atmosphere”.

“What we cannot do, I’m afraid, is make up for that with some kind of reparations. We simply don’t have the financial resources, and no country could,” he said.

“What we can do is help with the technology that I think will fix the problem, and help to build these partnerships.”

Rishi Sunak is at Cop27 after initially saying he would not attend. Bloomberg

At the side event hosted by The New York Times, Mr Johnson would not be drawn into criticising Mr Sunak for his initial reluctance to attend Cop27.

“The PM’s here; I’m glad he’s here,” he said of Mr Sunak, whose resignation as chancellor of the exchequer in July was a key moment in Mr Johnson’s downfall.

But he took issue with some Conservative Party figures who have called Britain’s net zero targets into question because of the current energy crisis.

In a direct rebuke of his former adviser David Frost, who described wind power as medieval technology, he said: “I pointed out that burning oil is positively palaeolithic.”

Mr Johnson said he himself was in Sharm El Sheikh to champion the legacy of the Cop26 summit, held in Britain when Mr Johnson was in office.

Cop27 takes place in the shadow of the war in Ukraine and a quest in Europe to replace Russian gas, which has sometimes involved turning to fossil fuels.

“People have started to say we all went too far and too fast and that we’ve been naive and utopian in our rush to move beyond hydrocarbons, that we’ve inflicted needless energy costs on our populations,” Mr Johnson said.

“I believe that here at Sharm is a moment when we really have to tackle this nonsense head-on.”

World leaders at Cop27 - in pictures

Mr Sunak is expected on Monday to announce a trebling of UK funding for adaptation, the UN term for preventing damage from global warming.

But the loss and damage debate — covering impacts that it is too late to prevent — will also be part of the Cop27 agenda, in an initial victory for developing countries.

African countries in particular are lobbying for compensation to address disasters that it is too late to prevent.

Rich countries have historically been wary of opening themselves up to what could be eye-watering liability claims.

But the UK’s Business Secretary Grant Shapps, speaking for Mr Sunak’s government on morning television, said Britain was open to negotiations.

“We industrialised first and we appreciate the rest of the world needs to be able to bring themselves along as well,” he said.

“There is a big international discussion going on; that’s one of the things happening at Cop27 in Egypt and we’re supportive of discussions going on.”

Updated: November 07, 2022, 11:53 AM