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Claire O’Neill attacks PM’s climate leadership as COP26 ‘miles off track’

Image: Policy Exchange.

Image: Policy Exchange.

Following her dismissal on Friday, former president of COP26 Claire O’Neill has hit out at Prime Minister Boris Johnson over the lack of leadership and support for COP and climate action in the UK.

“We are almost out of time to win the battle against climate change and start the process of climate recovery,” she warned in a letter addressed to the PM, before a detailed critique of both her dismissal and challenges in the department.

The attack comes as Johnson launches COP26, which will take place in November in Glasgow, pledging to ban diesel cars from 2035 in a speech at the launch event.

O'Neill criticises the fact that the promised cabinet sub-committee on climate has not met once, as well as internal Whitehall battles and “ballooning” budgets for COP26.

The COP Delivery unit has “had to battle for every resource, jump through every possible internal process hoop and been prohibited from hiring in outside talent with appropriate experience such as Olympics delivery experts.

“Not surprisingly this has been extremely stressful for them and they are stretched to the limit,” she continues in the letter.

As such, “we are miles off track” with COP26 O’Neill says, petitioning for a whole government reset that would allow greater progress without “Whitehall knot-tying, infighting and obfuscation, petty political squabbles and black ops briefings”.

O’Neill backed up the letter on an interview on BBC Radio 4, saying Johnson “doesn’t really get it” when discussing climate change. She expanded on challenges the group has faced in planning the event in Scotland, which in the letter she states is due to Johnson's animosity towards First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

“I had asked if you would consider resetting your relationship with the First Minister – putting aside the devolution battle for the sake of this vastly more important agenda. I understand you declined in salty terms.”

Sturgeon took to Twitter to support COP26, stating: “To be clear - @scotgov wants #COP26 to be a success & will play our full part in making it so. It’s not about Boris Johnson or me - it is about tackling the climate crisis. My commitment is that political differences will not stop me and my government working to make it a success”.

A statement from Number 10, said: "The prime minister is grateful to Claire for her work preparing for what will be a very successful and ambitious climate change summit in Glasgow in November.

"Preparations will continue at pace for the summit, and a replacement will be confirmed shortly. Going forward, this will be a ministerial role."

O’Neill has received support from a number of individuals and groups following the letter, whilst Johnson is yet to comment.

Former Labour leader Ed Miliband took to Twitter to condemn the lack of leadership from Johnson: “Appointed by PM 6 months ago and sacked 9 months before the COP. Total mess of the PM’s making in absolutely vital and incredibly complex climate negotiations. Government have massively underestimated task. No president, no grip and clock ticking. Time for some leadership now.”

O’Neill, who was formerly energy minister and MP for Devizes before choosing not to stand in the most recent election, finishes the letter saying she will continue to support COP26, “but I will do so joyfully free from political patronage and pretence, cheering on progress and calling out greenwash, empty promises, dither and delay".

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