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Why Johnson sounds pessimistic about Cop26

Why Johnson sounds pessimistic about Cop26
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The Prime Minister has touched down in New York for the UN General Assembly where he hopes to press countries on committing funds for the Cop26 climate talks. Ahead of the summit, Boris Johnson has urged wealthier countries to contribute to a £100 billion a year funding target aimed at helping developing nations to cut carbon emissions. That commitment is viewed as key to getting the ball rolling when the negotiations get underway at the summit in Glasgow in November. 

But things aren't going to plan. Speaking to hacks on the trip, Johnson said it would be a stretch to get the money all there during his trip. That's not such a surprise – but more strikingly, he said the chances of sorting it before Cop26 were 'six in ten'. Part of the issue is that the US is seen to be under-delivering. While Johnson will meet Joe Biden one-on-one this week, there are many other things he plans to use the opportunity to push for, including easing travel restrictions for UK visitors to the US.

Johnson's comments could simply be an exercise in expectation management. There is an expectation that the US will announce more funding. Yet behind the scenes there is increasing pessimism about Cop26 more widely and what it will achieve. Initially Johnson had viewed the climate summit as a chance for a reset moment both domestically and internationally. But the domestic appeal of reaching net zero is questioned by many in his own party – and the chance to show that the UK can lead on climate change on the world stage is proving hard to do.

It's not just hitting the funding target that is proving tricky but the negotiations more generally. The good news for Johnson is that Biden has said he will attend the summit. The bad news is that China's president Xi is yet to confirm. What's more, the attempt by US climate envoy John Kerry to separate climate change from wider political issues holds little weight with the Chinese government. Ongoing UK/US hostilities to China on foreign policy mean that Xi is reluctant to play ball on the green agenda. 

If the larger emitters are absent from the summit, it's much harder to come to a global agreement of significance – and measures back home become much harder to sell. Already Tory MPs are complaining that the public ought not to be punished when large emitters such as China are ‘carrying on as usual’.