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Boris Johnson during Prime Minister's Questions

Johnson told to make COP26 about more than ‘soothing words and worthless ambitions’

Image credit: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via REUTERS

A former Nasa scientist has warned that the upcoming COP26 climate conference needs to mandate firm climate action rather than the “soothing words and worthless ambitions” of the preceding events.

In a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, James Hansen described young people as “fed up” over the lack of action taken by political leaders on the pressing issue of climate change.

He also criticised the recently approved plan to open a new coal mine in Cumbria, which deeply angered environmental campaigners. Business Minister Kwasi Kwarteng later defended the move arguing that the coal would have been imported if it were not mined in the UK.

“Just continue with the plan to open a new coal mine in Cumbria and continue to invest funds of the British public in fossil fuel projects overseas, in contemptuous disregard of the future of young people and nature,” Hansen said.

“The contrary path is not so easy, but, with your leadership, it is realistic. And by providing the acumen and gumption required to change our course, you will earn a special place in history and the gratitude of young people.”

He urged greater use of carbon taxes so that fossil fuels have the “costs to society” factored into their pricing, adding that economic studies have shown this to be one of the fastest ways to drive down fossil fuel usage and spur innovation in clean energies and energy efficiency.

In a direct appeal to Johnson, he wrote: “In leading the UK, as host to the COP, you have a chance to change the course of our climate trajectory, earning the UK and yourself historic accolades – or you can stick with business-almost-as-usual and be vilified in the streets of Glasgow, London, and around the world.

“If this COP is like the prior ones – with soothing words and worthless ambitions – they will be justifiably outraged.”

Hansen has previously said the West should bear the most responsibility for climate change due to historic emissions as the progenitors of the industrial revolution.

A No 10 spokesman said the UK “continues to lead the fight against climate change” and had cut emissions “more than any major economy so far”.

The spokesman added: “We have already committed to ending the use of coal for electricity by 2025 and ending direct government support for the fossil fuel energy sector overseas.

“On top of significant government investment, we will also bring forward a strategy this year to decarbonise industries like steel, and the manufacturing processes they rely on.”

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