The former president of the UN climate summit in Glasgow, who was sacked by the government last week, has launched a blistering attack on Boris Johnson’s record on tackling climate change.
Claire O’Neill, the former Conservative clean growth minister, spoke out as the prime minister prepared to outline new measures including a ban on sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles being brought forward to 2035.
In a letter to Johnson, published by the Financial Times, O’Neill told the prime minister: “You promised to ‘lead from the front’ and asked me what was needed: ‘money, people, just tell us!’ Sadly these promises are not close to being met.”
She added: “This isn’t a pretty place to be and we owe the world a lot better.”
She said the prime minister had not convened the cabinet subcommittee on climate change that he had promised, adding that the government was “miles off track” in setting a positive agenda for the summit in Glasgow and that promises of action “are not close to being met”.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday morning, she said the prime minister did not understand the climate emergency and Britain needed to step up its efforts to tackle the crisis.
“The prime minister has made incredibly warm statements about this over the years,” she said. “He has also admitted to me that he doesn’t really understand it. He doesn’t really get it, I think is what he said.”
She added: “We have seen a huge lack of leadership and engagement. Our efforts right now are somewhere around the middle of League One. We are playing at Oxford United levels when we need to be Liverpool if we are going to do what the world actually needs us to do.”
On the prime minister personally, she said: “My advice to anybody to whom Boris is making promises – whether it is voters, world leaders, ministers, employees or indeed to family members – is to get it in writing, get a lawyer to look at it and make sure the money is in the bank.”
Her attack came as Johnson was about to outline plans for the COP 26 summit, to take place in Glasgow in November in the UK, with a speech setting out Britain’s stall as a leader on tackling climate change.
In his speech on Tuesday, he will urge other countries to follow the UK’s lead in setting targets to cut their emissions to net zero – with major cuts to greenhouse gases and any remaining pollution offset by measures such as planting trees.
In her letter to Johnson, O’Neill suggested his personal animosity towards Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, was endangering the success of the summit and claimed the prime minister was considering relocating the event to an English location because of “ballooning costs”.
On Friday, O’Neill, under her Twitter handle of @COP26President said: “Very sad that the role I was offered by Boris Johnson last year has now been rescinded as Whitehall ‘can’t cope’ with an indy COP unit. A shame we haven’t had one climate cabinet meeting since we formed. Wishing the COP team every blessing in the climate recovery emergency.”
The dramatic last-minute change of plan follows murmurings over the past month that O’Neill lacked the gravitas for one of the most important jobs in international politics this year.