Sep 22, 2021
UK Boris Johnson UN General Assembly 2021 Speech Transcript
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave a speech at the 2021 UN General Assembly on September 22. Read the transcript of his speech on climate here.
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Prime Minister Boris Johnson: (00:00)
… and gentlemen, thank you to all of you, you faithful few, who have waited to the end of this very, very important session, and very good to see my audience over there. Listen folks, an inspection of the fossil record over the last 178 million years, which is since mammals first appeared, reveals that the average mammalian species, we’re all mammals, exists for about a million years before it evolves into something else, or else vanishes into extinction. And of our allotted lifespan of a million years, humanity, homosapiens, has been around for about 200,000 years. In other words, we’re still collectively a youngster. If you imagine that million years is the lifespan of an individual human being, about 80 years, then we’re now sweet 16. We’ve come to that fateful age when we know roughly how to drive, and we know how to unlock the drinks cabinet and to engage in all sorts of activity that is not only potentially embarrassing, but also terminal for ourselves and others.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson: (01:15)
In the words of the Oxford philosopher, Toby Ord, “We’re just old enough to get ourselves into serious trouble.” And I’m afraid we believe, we still cling with parts of our minds to the infantile belief that the world was made for our gratification and pleasure. And we combine this narcissism with an assumption of our own immortality. We believe that someone else will clear up the mess because that is what someone else has always done. And we trash our habitats again and again with the inductive reasoning that we’ve got away with it so far and therefore we’ll get away with it again.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson: (01:58)
My friends, the adolescence of humanity is coming to an end and must come to an end. We’re approaching that critical turning point in less than two months, in just over 40 days, when we must show that we are capable of learning and maturing and finally taking responsibility for the destruction we are inflicting not just upon our planet, but upon ourselves.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson: (02:27)
It’s time for humanity to grow up. It’s time for us to listen to the warnings of the scientists. And if you look at COVID, if you want to see an example of the gloomy scientist being proved right, it’s time for us to grow up and understand who we are and what we’re doing. The world, this precious blue sphere with its eggshell crust and wisp of an atmosphere, is not some indestructible toy, some bouncy plastic romper room against which we can hurl ourselves to our hearts content. Daily, weekly, we are doing such irreversible damage that long before a million years are up, we will have made this beautiful planet effectively uninhabitable, not just for us, but for many other species. And that is why the Glasgow COP26 Summit is the turning point for humanity.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson: (03:25)
We must limit the rise in temperatures, whose appalling effects were visible even this summer, to 1.5 degrees. We must come together in a collective coming of age. We must show that we have the maturity and wisdom to act. And we can, even in this past 16 years as it were, this feckless youth that we’ve just passed, we’ve shown our skill. We’ve harnessed clean energy from wind and wave and sun. We’ve released energy from within the atom itself and from hydrogen, we found ways to store that energy in increasingly capacious batteries, and even in molten salt. We have the tools for a green industrial revolution. We’ve got the kit, but time is desperately short. Two days ago, here in New York, we had a session in which we heard from the leaders of the nations most threatened by climate change. The Marshall Islands, the Maldives, Mr President, Bangladesh, and many others.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson: (04:38)
And they spoke of the hurricanes and the flooding, and the fires caused by the extreme meteorological conditions the world is already seeing. The tragedy, is it because of our past inaction? There are further rises in temperatures that are already baked in. And my friends, baked is the word. If we keep on the current track, then the temperatures will go up by 2.7 degrees or more by the end of the century. And nevermind what that will do to the ice flows, desolving like ice in your martini here in New York. We will see desertification, drought, crop failure, and mass movements of humanity on a scale not seen before.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson: (05:25)
Not because of some unforeseen natural event or disaster, but because of us, because of what we are doing now, and our grandchildren will know that we are the culprits, and they will know that we knew, that we were warned. And they will know that it was this generation that came center stage to speak and act on behalf of them, on behalf of posterity and that we missed our queue. And they will all ask themselves what kind of people we were to be so selfish and so shortsighted. In just 40 days time, we need the world to come to Glasgow to make the commitments necessary.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson: (06:19)
And we’re not talking, I’m afraid, about stopping the rise in temperatures. We can’t do that. It’s too late to stop the rise in temperatures. But to restrain that growth, as I say, to 1.5 degrees. And that means we need to pledge collectively to achieve carbon neutrality net zero by the middle of the century. And that will be an amazing moment if we can do it. Because it will mean that for the first time in centuries humanity is no longer adding to the budget of carbon in the atmosphere, no longer thickening that invisible quilt that is warming the planet.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson: (07:01)
And it’s fantastic that we now have countries here at the UN representing 70% of the world’s GDP who are committed to this net zero objective. 70% of the world’s GDP, and I’m proud to say when my friend and colleague, Alok Sharma, the president designate of COP26, began his mission, his peregrinations around the world, that number was only 30% of world GDP.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson: (07:27)
So we’re getting there, is the point I’m making. And we can go further. And if we are going to stave off these hikes, these rises in temperature, we must go further, and we must go faster. We need all countries, every single one of you, to step up and commit to very substantial reductions by 2030. And I’m absolutely convinced, I passionately believe that we can do it by making commitments in four areas. And I want you to remember them, coal, cars, cash and trees. Coal, cars, cash and trees. Very simple. I’m not one of those environmentalist by the way, who takes a moral pleasure in excoriating humanity for its excess. I didn’t see the green movement as a pretext for a wholesale assault on capitalism, far from it. The whole experience of the COVID pandemic is that the way to fix the problem is through science and innovation, the breakthroughs and the investments that are made possible by capitalism and free markets.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson: (08:42)
And it’s throughout promethium faith in new green technology that we are cutting emissions in the UK. When I was a kid, we produced almost 80% of our electricity from coal. I know that some of you here tonight rely very heavily on coal, but in the UK, that percentage is now down to 2% or less. And coal will be gone altogether from our energy production by 2024. We’ve put in great forests of beautiful wind turbines on the drowned prairies of Doggerland, between Britain and Holland in the North Sea. In fact, we produce so much offshore wind that I’m thinking of changing my name in honor of the God of the North Wind, to Borias Johnson. There you go, shove in that classical illusion this time of night to see if you’re paying attention, folks.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson: (09:41)
I know that we’re ambitious in asking the developing world to end the use of coal power by 2040, and for the developed world to do so by 2030. But the experience of the UK shows that it can be done, and profitably too. And by the way, I want to thank very much president Xi of China for what he has just done to end china’s international financing of coal. And I hope China will now go further and phase out the domestic use of coal as well. Wouldn’t that be a great thing? Because the experience of the UK shows that it can be done. And when I was elected mayor of London, only a mere 13 years ago, I was desperate to encourage more electric vehicles. And we went around the city putting in charging points. And I’m afraid to say that in those days, those charging points were pretty lonely objects and not much patronized, but today it’s totally different.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson: (10:42)
And the market for electric vehicles is growing at an extraordinary pace, maybe two thirds every year. And Nissan is sufficiently confident now to invest a billion pounds in a new EV factory, plus a Gigafactory for batteries. And that is because the government, we have set the hard deadline for the sale of new hydrocarbon, internal combustion engine vehicles by 2030, the most aggressive deadline in the whole of Europe. And again, we call on the world to come together to drive this market in a low carbon way, drive this market, so that by 2040, there are only zero emission vehicles on sale anywhere in the world. And my point is that you can make these cuts in pollution. These massive cuts in pollution and emissions while driving jobs and growth. We’ve cut our greenhouse gas emissions by 44% in the last 30 years while expanding our GDP by 78%.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson: (11:46)
And we will now go further by implementing one of the biggest nationally determined contributions currently being offered. The nationally determined contribution is the NDC, is the pledge, that in the run-up to COP, we’re asking every country to make in cutting carbon. We’re going to go down by 68% by 2030, 68% cut in carbon by 2030, compared to where we were in 1990. We’re making a big bet on hydrogen. We’re going to be expanding our nuclear capacity, and you can see the logic of going for more renewables, when you look at the spike in hydrocarbon prices, particularly gas. We’re helping people to reduce their own household CO2 by retrofitting their homes and going for new sources of heating. We’re working towards a jet zero, the first large guilt-free carbon-free passenger plane. And we also recognize that this is not just about using technical fixes, technology to cut CO2.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson: (13:00)
We also need to work together around the world to restore the balance between humanity and nature. A balance that’s obviously been proved so hopelessly out of whack by the emergence of a zoonotic pandemic, for instance. We need to holt and reverse the loss of trees and biodiversity by 2030. Holt and reverse the loss of trees by 2030. That’s what we should do, and pledge to do that at the COP in just 40 days time. And that’s why we in the UK are committed to beautifying the landscape, strengthening our protection against flooding, by planting millions more trees, beautiful trees that stop soil erosion, provide habitats for insects and birds, and mammals, and which of course help to fix carbon in the atmosphere. We must also work towards the crucial UN Summit on Biodiversity coming in China. And by the way, on the subject of planting trees, we’re going to do millions in the UK, but I was absolutely blown away.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson: (14:07)
I invite everybody to follow the example of Imran Khan of Pakistan, who has pledged to plant 10 billion trees in Pakistan alone, and he’s going some. And I think it’s very important that we in the developed world recognize our obligation to help less developed countries down this path, in all these technologies. And we’ve got to be honest, we in the United Kingdom, we in Britain, started this industrial hydrocarbon-based revolution. We were the first to send great puffs of acrid smoke into heavens on a scale big enough to derange the natural order. And though we were in fact, of course, doing something rather wonderful in one sense, we were setting in train a new era of technology that was itself to lead to a massive global reduction in poverty, emancipating billions of people around the world. I mean, the industrial revolution was a good thing fundamentally, but we were also unwittingly beginning to quilt the great tea cozy of carbon dioxide around the world.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson: (15:21)
And so we understand that when the developing world looks to us to help, we must take our responsibilities. And that’s why two years ago, when I last came here, Mr. President, to UNGA, I committed that the UK would provide 11.6 billion pounds to help the rest of the world to tackle climate change. And I want you to know that in spite of all the pressures on our finances in the UK caused by COVID, we have kept that promise to the letter. And so I’m very pleased and encouraged by some of the pledges we’ve heard here at UNGA, including from Denmark, and now, a very substantial commitment from the United States that brings us within touching distance of that $100 billion pledge that we need every year. But we must go further and we’ve got to be clear that government alone, government cash alone, is not going to be enough.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson: (16:29)
We must work together so that the international financial institutions, the INF, the World Bank, are working with governments around the world to leverage in the private sector, because it is the trillions of dollars of private sector cash that will enable developing nations and the whole world, all of us, to make the changes necessary. And to give an example, it was the UK government that set the strike price under the contract for this different system. The strike price for the private sector to come in and transform our country into the Saudi Arabia of wind, if you see what I mean. We don’t resemble Saudi Arabia in many ways, but in terms of offshore wind, we produce more offshore wind than any other country in the world. Only yesterday, the UK’s first sovereign green bond raised 10 billion pounds on the markets, on the markets from hardheaded investors who want to make money.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson: (17:38)
And my point is that these investments will not only help the countries of the world to tackle climate change, they will produce millions. I mean, literally, in the decades to come, millions and millions of high wage, high skill jobs. And today’s workforce, and the next generation of green collar workers, will have the extra satisfaction of knowing that they’re not only doing something useful and well remunerated, providing green energy, but also helping to save the planet of the same time.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson: (18:13)
Every day, green startups are producing new ideas, from feeding seaweed to cows to restrain their traditional signs of digestive approval, to using artificial intelligence and robotics to enhance food production, capture CO2, put it into brownies and so on. And it’s these technological breakthroughs that will cut the cost for consumers so that we have nothing to fear and everything to gain from this green industrial revolution. And when Kermit the Frog sang, “It’s not easy being green,” you remember that one? I want you to know that he was wrong. He was wrong.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson: (19:11)
It is easy. It’s not only easy, it’s lucrative and it’s right to be green. He was [inaudible 00:19:16] also unnecessarily rude to Ms. Piggy, I thought, Kermit the Frog. But it is easy to be green. We have the technology, as we used to say, when I was a kid, we can do it. We have… So in 40 days time, we have the choice before us. The poet Sophocles is often quoted, or often quoted by me anyway, as saying that there are many terrifying things in the world, but none is more terrifying than mankind. And it’s certainly true that Sophocles was right in that sense, in that our species is uniquely capable of our own destruction and the destruction of everything around us. But if you look at the Greek, what Sophocles actually said, was that man, [foreign language 00:20:09], is what he said, which is danos, man is danos. And terrifying isn’t quite right as a translation for danos.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson: (20:19)
What Sophocles really means is that humanity is awesome. We’re both terrifying, but also awesome. And I think he was right there. We have an awesome power to change things and to change things for the better. And an awesome power to save ourselves. And in the next 40 days, we have to choose, the world has to choose, what kind of awesome we’re going to be.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson: (20:51)
And to get back to my metaphor of adolescence, I hope that COP26 will be a 16th birthday party for humanity, which is not miserable, but a party which we choose to grow up, to recognize the scale of the challenge that we faced, and to do what posterity demands that we must. And so I invite you, I invite this great UN assembly in November to come and take part by your actions and what I hope will be a global coming of age and to blow out the candles, if you like, blow out the candles of a world on fire, that’s what I think we should do. So thank you all very much. Thank you for the pledges that you’re making. I hope that you will increase them and do what is necessary. Mr. President, see you in Glasgow. Thank you.