Boris Johnson to tell world to 'grow up' on climate change

Despite his own shaky environmental record, the UK prime minister will use his UN address to say the time for global action is now

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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will urge the world to "grow up" and take responsibility for climate change in his UN General Assembly address in New York later today.

With the Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow looming, Mr Johnson will exhort world leaders to change their "infantile" approach.

“Of our allotted lifespan of a million, humanity has been around for about 200,000. In other words, we are still collectively a youngster,” Mr Johnson is expected to say.

“In terms of the life of our species, we are about 16. We have come to that fateful age when we know roughly how to drive and we know how to unlock the drinks cabinet and to engage in all sorts of activity that is not only potentially embarrassing but also terminal.

“In the words of the Oxford philosopher Toby Ord we are just old enough to get ourselves into serious trouble. We still cling with part of our minds to the infantile belief that the world was made for our gratification and pleasure, and we combine this narcissism with a primitive assumption of our own immortality.”

The sentiments are designed to show Mr Johnson as a robust, truth-telling figure on environmental issues, but his climate actions since becoming prime minister have diverged from his rhetoric.

My friends, the adolescence of humanity is coming to an end. We are approaching that critical turning point
Boris Johnson

Mr Johnson has approved a new North Sea oilfield, appointed former Australian prime minister and renowned climate sceptic Tony Abbot as a UK trade ambassador, approved the continuation of the high-speed HS2 railway – the construction of which will devastate wildlife and biodiversity – and failed to promote a comprehensive green recovery from the coronavirus pandemic in the vein of US President Joe Biden.

Mr Johnson has put the need to act on climate change at the heart of his trip to the US. The agenda will be spelt out unequivocally in his UN speech.

“My friends, the adolescence of humanity is coming to an end. We are approaching that critical turning point, in less than two months, when we must show that we are capable of learning, and maturing, and finally taking responsibility for the destruction we are doing, not just to our planet but to ourselves. It is time for humanity to grow up.”

Mr Biden has been equally forthright on the climate since assuming office.

Alongside his green-focused Covid recovery plan, on Tuesday he committed to doubling US global climate funding in his UN address – the second time he has done so in his brief tenure.

“In April I announced the United States will double our public international financing to help developing nations tackle the climate crisis. Today, I’m proud to announce that we’ll work with the Congress to double that number again, including for adaptation efforts,” he said.

“This will make the United States the leader of public climate finance. With our added support [and increased] private capital from other donors, we will be able to meet the [global] goal of mobilising $100 billion to support climate action in developing nations.”

Updated: September 22, 2021, 9:22 AM