It is uncertain whether Britain will negotiate deals adequate enough to curb irreversible climate change at Cop26, Boris Johnson admitted, saying encouraging people to recycle more is not the answer.
The prime minister appeared to lower expectations as to whether the global leaders’ summit that begins this week would be a success, after Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time confirmed that he would not attend the light of the coronavirus situation, according to Downing Street.
The move was expected by some UK government insiders, but it will always be a blow to those who hoped that world leaders whose influence would be critical to reducing emissions across the planet would rally around the negotiating table.
Ahead of Cop26 which begins in Glasgow on Sunday, Johnson held a question-and-answer session with several dozen children at No 10 on Monday, where he dismissed the impact of encouraging individuals to recycle more.
Recycling is not the solution, I have to be honest with you, he says. You are not going to like it. He does not begin to solve the problem. You can only recycle plastic a few times, really. What you need to do is stop the production of plastic. Stop using plastic for the first time. The recycling thing is a red herring We all need to reduce our use of plastic.
Johnson named and humiliated Coca-Cola as one of the 12 companies producing the most plastics in the world. He said that producing material for single-use items was a huge problem and companies should find other ways to package and sell our products, like using seaweed, banana leaves and coconut as a substitute material.
The comment caused shock from Simon Ellin, managing director of the Recycling Association, who told BBC Radio 4’s World at One show that it was very disappointing and that Johnson had completely lost the plastic ground. He said he agreed that the production of plastic should be reduced, but that we cannot do without it to contain and protect food. Ellin said a recently released government waste strategy put recycling front and center, so Johnson appears to be totally at odds with his own government’s policy.
WWF UK Managing Director Tanya Steele, who was answering Johnson’s questions at the event, appeared to take a different point of view. We need to reduce, we need to reuse I think we need to do some recycling, PM, and have a system to do it, she said.
Johnson stepped in to say: This is not working. I don’t want to be doctrinal on this, but if people think we can just get out of the problem, well, let’s make a huge mistake.
He was also cautious about whether many breakthroughs would occur when world leaders meet in Scotland later this week. I think it can be done, Johnson said. This summit is going to be very, very difficult, and I’m very worried that it could go wrong. We may not get the deals we need. Its touch and go, it’s very, very difficult It’s very far from clear to get the progress we need.
The Prime Minister said it was a very fair criticism of the world when challenged by a child over why political leaders were not dealing with the climate crisis as urgently as Covid. He added: I share your alarm on where we need to be.
In addition to Putin’s refusal to attend, there are also fears that Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who has not left his country since the start of the Covid epidemic, may also miss the event.
During the session, the Prime Minister also made a joke in response to Steele saying that humans and pets made up 97% of mammals on the planet, leaving limited resources for wild animals.
Johnson said that to rebalance nature, we could feed some of the humans animals. He also joked that since cows emit so much methane, we need to encourage them to stop burping.
When asked if the government was deliberately trying to lower expectations, No.10 said Johnson’s negative comments about the summit meant he was realistic about the challenge it posed.
His official spokesperson has also tried to play down comments about recycling, saying the Prime Minister has said recycling alone is not enough.
When asked for clarification on Johnson’s comments on people needing less, Downing Street did not say if that meant eating less meat or buying less, and declined to elaborate on own habits environmental issues of prime ministers. Its official spokesperson said: There are practical steps people can take voluntarily, which we encourage.
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