Boris Johnson talks up COP26 climate deals but stumbles on Attenborough mask controversy

Speaking to CNN on the sidelines of talks in Glasgow, the British Prime Minister struck a somber tone on the state of the climate emergency, saying “I think you’ve got to be gloom and doom until we fix this thing” and insisting the world was “inching forward” on solving the crisis.

Johnson hailed some of the early agreements reached at the summit, including a pact to reduce deforestation, and suggested that more announcements could come over the course o the two-week summit.He also said his government was committing to reducing its reliance on coal, despite the prospect of a controversial new mine opening in northwest England.

“I don’t want more coal, and our government doesn’t want more coal. We’ll do what we’re legally able to do,” Johnson said.

Johnson had sparked outrage on the first day of the summit when he was pictured without a mask next to veteran broadcaster and environmental campaigner Attenborough.

Asked about the controversy, Johnson stumbled before saying: “I’ve been wearing masks in confined spaces with people I don’t normally talk to … it’s up to people to take a judgment whether they’re at a reasonable distance from someone … that’s the approach we take.”

Johnson was also asked about his 2013 claim that the previous British government had “put in a load of wind farms that failed to pull the skin off a rice pudding.” He responded by saying that “everybody has the right” to change their mind and hailed the developments in technology were the driving force for his change of heart.

“If you look at the sophistication of the cells … the size of the turbines … propeller blades twice the size of the London Eye … imagine that. These are enormous creations. They’re actually rather beautiful.”

Asked about the seesawing nature of US policy on climate and whether the world could trust any American administration on the issue, Johnson struck an optimistic tone.

“What’s changed now is the voters in our countries want change and want us to fix this thing. I believe this goes for all great Western democracies. But I think it also goes for populations around the world,” Johnson said. He cited the example of Covid-19, saying that when populations “see something that they think is a natural disaster,” they change their behaviors.

“People can see climate change is happening. They can see wildfires and flooding. They can see that something out of the normal weather events is taking place,” Johnson said. “And it’s moving up their agenda.”

“I believe Joe [Biden] understands that, and I think people are enthusiastic about his agenda to fix it. But i think any future president of the United States is going to be responding to strong, strong, democratic pressure to join and support the rest of the world in fixing climate change.”

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Johnson also sought to defend his government’s widely-criticized handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and said he did not plan to bring in further measures, including mandating the wearing of masks, despite a recent rise in cases and deaths in the UK.

The Prime Minister said that while he was “watching the data all the time” and that we “have to remain humble in the face of the nature of what the disease can do,” he believed that at the moment “we don’t see any reasons to deviate the plan that we’re on.”

He went on to hail the UK’s vaccine rollout, saying that the UK was “starting to deal with Covid as part of our lives.”

Read More: Boris Johnson talks up COP26 climate deals but stumbles on Attenborough mask controversy

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