Ministers warn it will be ‘difficult to get progress’ at COP26

Boris Johnson tonight admitted Xi Jinping stonewalled him in a phone call when he pleaded for China to bring forward its ‘peak’ emissions date. 

The Prime Minister spoke to the Chinese President on the phone after he confirmed he will not be attending the COP26 summit in person – although he will address his fellow world leaders via video link. 

China has dashed hopes of significant progress being made at the summit in Glasgow after it recommitted to its old climate goals and failed to set out any additional ones. 

China is the biggest emitter of CO2 in the world and its formal submission ahead of COP26 restated its goal of achieving ‘carbon neutrality’ by 2060 and emissions peaking by 2030. 

Speaking to reporters en route to the G20 summit this evening, Mr Johnson said: ‘I had a long talk with President Xi today and I reiterated my thanks to him for what he said about overseas coal, which is good. 

‘And I made a couple of other points. First of all the moment for peaking, and whether they’re going to get to that. He said 2030. I pushed a bit on that 2025 would be better than 2030. 

‘I wouldn’t say he committed on that but the other point where I was evangelical was the potential to move away from coal. 

‘He said China depends on it for our domestic economy. I said so many times from the UK moving from 80 percent dependency on coal for electricity to one percent today.

‘I said when I came to see you in Beijing in 2008 we were 40 percent dependent on coal and it shows how fast you can make the transition.’ 

A Downing Street summary of the phone call with President Xi said Mr Johnson had ‘acknowledged’ China’s plans to tackle climate change.  

A Number 10 spokesman added: ‘He emphasised the importance of all countries stepping up their ambition on climate change at COP26 and taking concrete action to cut emissions and expedite the transition to renewable energy, including phasing out coal.’

Downing Street also said the leaders ‘recognised that there were areas of disagreement and difficulty in the bilateral relationship’ between the two countries. 

Mr Johnson ‘raised the United Kingdom’s concerns about the erosion of democracy in Hong Kong and human rights in Xinjiang’ but the pair also ‘agreed to cooperate on areas of shared interest’.  

While China industrialised decades later than western nations, its growth in recent years – largely fuelled by coal – has been so ferocious that it has eclipsed almost all other nations. It is now the world’s largest emitter by a wide margin (above) 

Boris Johnson today urged Xi Jinping to 'step up' China's ambitions on tackling climate change

Boris Johnson today urged Xi Jinping to ‘step up’ China’s ambitions on tackling climate change

China confirmed President Xi will not be attending the  COP26 summit in person but will address his counterparts via video link

China confirmed President Xi will not be attending the  COP26 summit in person but will address his counterparts via video link

Downing Street prepared for the summit, due to get underway in Glasgow on Sunday, by lighting up a green arch over the famous Number 10 door

Downing Street prepared for the summit, due to get underway in Glasgow on Sunday, by lighting up a green arch over the famous Number 10 door 

The phone call came after George Eustice warned it will be ‘difficult to get progress’ at the crunch summit amid growing fears the gathering of world leaders will fail to deliver a major breakthrough. 

The Environment Secretary said he is ‘nervous’ about whether the summit will ‘get things over the line’ when it starts on Sunday. 

The main aim of the summit, which will run from October 31 to November 12, is to persuade countries to agree to take action to restrict global warming to nothing more than 1.5 degrees.

Mr Johnson previously hailed COP26 as a major moment, saying in September that ‘this is the most important period I think now in the history of the planet – because COP simply must succeed’. 

However, expectations appear to have now been dampened, with the Prime Minister saying earlier this week that it will be ‘touch and go’ on whether progress will be made. 

Mr Eustice told Sky News that it is always difficult to agree big changes at large-scale events attended by many nations. 

He said: ‘These events, because they are big, multi-lateral events with many countries, it is often difficult to get progress.

‘We have been working incredibly hard though on our agenda which is getting more countries to commit to net zero by the middle of the century, getting commitments on decarbonising transport, particularly electrification of cars.

‘And in my case working quite hard on a package around forests, mobilising finance and getting agreement on reducing and halting the net loss of forests around the world.

‘So I am optimistic about these agendas. But always, obviously, when we are in the final days in the build up to it you do get nervous about whether you will get things over the line, certain agreements over the line.

‘There is more to be done at the actual summit itself. I am optimistic but it is, as the Prime Minister said, touch and go.

Mr Johnson said on Monday that he was ‘worried’ the COP26 summit could end in failure. 

The Prime Minister said a deal between world leaders on reducing harmful emissions ‘can be done’ but it is going to be ‘very, very tough’.

Mr Johnson said he is concerned the UN summit could ‘go wrong’ and it will be ‘touch and go’ whether an agreement can be hammered out. 

The UK has set out a plan to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 and is urging other countries to follow suit.  

The PM’s comments came after reports last week that Alok Sharma, the COP26 President, was angry with Mr Johnson for talking up the summit as a make or break moment for the planet.   

It was claimed that Mr Sharma was ‘raging’ at the PM for building up expectations amid Cabinet fears it could be a ‘damp squib’. 

Some ministers believed the Government’s messaging ahead of the summit has been too bullish and was ‘completely out of control’. Allies of Mr Sharma denied that he was angry with the PM.