Claire O’Neill, the chair of the COP26 talks sacked by Boris Johnson last week, said the prime minister did not understand the climate emergency.
Speaking this morning on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the former energy minister said:
“The prime minister has made incredibly warm statements about this over the years.
“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.”
The comments are likely to overshadow the government’s decision to bring forward the ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars and vans.
The prime minister is due to make an announcement today at the launch of the COP26 UN climate talks, due to take place in Glasgow in November. He will say UK sales will be banned in 2035, instead of the previous date of 2040.
Mrs O’Neill was sacked by the prime minister as the chair of the COP26 at the end of January. The Sunday Times reported that she was considering suing the government.
This morning, she told Today:
“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 Boris Johnson, 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.”
“Almost out of time to win battle”
The Financial Times published a letter from Mrs O’Neill to the prime minister dated 3 February 2020. In it, she said:
“We are almost out of time to win the battle against climate change and start the process of climate recovery.”
Mrs O’Neill complained that the cabinet sub-committee on climate had not met.
Government departments had “fought internal Whitehall battles over who is responsible and accountable for COP actions”, she said.
Budgets were ballooning and COP staff have “had to battle for every resource” and “jump through every possible internal process hoop”, her letter said.
“In my judgement this isn’t a pretty place to be and we owe the world a lot better.
“We must move on from Whitehall knot-tying, infighting and obfuscation, petty political squabbles and black ops briefings to real sustained engagement, maximum global ambition, open-hearted international cooperation, joined-up action and alliance building.”