Tackling climate change is about “growth and jobs” not “expensive bunny hugging”, Boris Johnson has said.
Speaking at a virtual summit, the prime minister told world leaders “we can build back better from this pandemic by building back greener.”
At the same event, US President Joe Biden pledged to cut carbon emissions by 50-52% below 2005 levels by 2030.
Mr Johnson praised Mr Biden for “returning the US to the front rank of the fight against climate change”.
One of Mr Biden’s first acts as president was to rejoin the Paris climate agreement, months after his predecessor Donald Trump had taken the US out.
Forty other leaders attended the summit including China’s President Xi Jinping who reiterated a promise to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.
It is hoped that all countries will commit to further carbon emission cuts at the COP26 conference due to be held in Glasgow this November.
Earlier this week, the UK government announced its own plans to cut carbon emissions by 78% compared to 1990 levels by 2035.
Labour welcomed the new commitment – which brings the current target forward by 15 years – but said the government “can’t be trusted to match rhetoric with reality”.
The party’s shadow environment secretary Ed Miliband urged ministers to match promises with “much more decisive action”.
In his speech to the Leaders Summit on Climate, Mr Johnson said UK’s carbon emissions were lower than at any point since the 19th century.
He also praised the wind power sector in the country, describing the UK as “the Saudi Arabia of wind”.
The prime minister called on other countries to “make this decade the moment of decisive change in the fight against climate change” by setting their own tough targets on carbon emissions.
He also emphasised the connection between wildlife and climate, saying: “If we’re going to tackle climate change we have to deal with the disaster of habitat loss and species loss across our planet.”
And he sought to play up the economic benefits of fighting climate change arguing: “It’s vital for all of us to show that this is not all about some expensive, politically correct, green act of bunny hugging.
“What I’m driving at is this is about growth and jobs.”
Diplomacy has turned green
The prime minister’s contribution to today’s virtual climate jamboree included familiar lines from him: the UK being the “Saudi Arabia of wind” power and him being a man keen on having your cake and eating it: “cake, have, eat” as he put it.
He didn’t dwell on what many say would be the colossal costs and changes society will have to take on to get to net zero emissions.
There is a bigger picture here too: the prime minister casting himself as a globally central figure in all this, ahead of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November.
Mr Johnson welcomed the return of the United States “to the front rank of the fight against climate change,” with President Biden replacing Donald Trump.
Mr Biden will be an enthusiastic participant in Glasgow later this year, whereas it would have been far from certain a re-elected President Trump would have even turned up.
Climate change, the ultimate international issue, has turned diplomacy green: for the prime minister, it is central to his vision for “Global Britain.”