The fossil record over the last 178 million years – since mammals first appeared – reveals that the average mammalian species exists for about a million years
before it evolves into something else or vanishes into extinction.
Of our allotted lifespan of a million years, humanity has been around for about 200,000.
In other words, we are still, collectively, a youngster. We still cling with part 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 we make, because that is what someone else has always done.
We trash our habitats again and again with the inductive reasoning that we have got away with it so far, and therefore we will get away with it again.
My friends, the adolescence of humanity is coming to an end.
This COP 26 summit in Glasgow is a critical turning point. 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 ourselves.
It is time for humanity to grow up.
It is time for us to listen to the warnings of the scientists and to understand who we are and what we are doing.
We are doing such irreversible damage that long before a million years are up, we will have made this planet uninhabitable. We must show we have the maturity and wisdom to act. And we can.
We have already harnessed clean energy from wind and wave and sun. We have released energy from within the atom itself and from hydrogen, and we have found ways to store that energy in increasingly capacious batteries and even in molten salt.
We have the tools for a green industrial revolution but time is desperately short.
At the UN General Assembly in New York, we heard from the leaders of the nations most threatened by climate change: the Marshall Islands, the Maldives, Bangladesh and many others. They spoke of hurricanes and flooding and fires caused by extreme meteorological conditions. The tragedy is that because of our past inaction, further rises in temperature are already baked in. If we keep on the current track, temperatures will go up by 2.7C or more by the end of the century. We will see desertification, drought, crop failure, and mass movements of humanity on a scale not seen before, not because of some unforeseen natural event or disaster, but because of us, because of what we are doing now.
Our grandchildren will know that we are the culprits and that we were warned and they will know that it was this generation that came centre stage to speak and act on behalf of posterity and that we missed our cue and they will ask what kind of people we were to be so selfish and so short sighted.
At COP26, we need to pledge collectively to achieve carbon neutrality – net zero – by the middle of the century.
If we can do that, it will mean that for the first time in centuries humanity is no longer adding to the budget of carbon in the atmosphere. It is fantastic that we now have countries representing 70% of the world’s GDP committed to this objective.
But if we are to stave off these hikes in temperature we must go further and faster. We need all countries to step up and commit to very substantial reductions by 2030, and I passionately believe that we can do it by making commitments in four areas – coal, cars, cash and trees.
The way to fix the problem is through science and innovation, the breakthroughs and the investment that are made possible by capitalism and by free markets, and it is through 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; that is now down to 2% or less and will be gone altogether by 2024.
I know that we are 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.
I thank President Xi for what he has 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, because the experience of the UK shows it can be done.
The market in electric vehicles in the UK is growing at an extraordinary pace, and Nissan is sufficiently
gigafactory for the batteries.
That is because we have set a hard deadline for the sale of new hydrocarbon ICEs of 2030 and again we call on the world to come together to drive this market so that by 2040 there are only zero-emission vehicles on sale anywhere in the world.
These cuts in pollution can be made while driving jobs and growth. In the UK, we have cut greenhouse gas emissions by 44 per cent in the last 30 years while expanding our GDP by 78 per cent.
We will now go further by implementing one of the biggest nationally determined contributions – the NDC is the pledge we ask every country to make in cutting carbon – going down by 68 per cent by 2030, compared to where we were in 1990.
We are making a huge bet on hydrogen, we are expanding nuclear, we are helping people to reduce their own household CO2.
Two years ago I committed the UK to providing £11.6 billion to help the rest of the world to tackle climate change. We have kept that promise.
I am so pleased and encouraged by some of the pledges we heard at the UN General Assembly, including a very substantial commitment from the US that brings us within touching distance of the $100 billion pledge.
Governments alone will not be able to do enough. We must work together so that the international financial institutions – the IMF, 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 – to make the changes necessary.
These investments will not only help the countries of the world to tackle climate change: they will produce millions and millions of high wage, high skill jobs. Technological breakthroughs will cut the cost for consumers, so that we have nothing to fear and everything to gain from this green industrial revolution.
We are awesome in our power to change things and to save ourselves. I hope that at COP26 we will recognise the scale of the challenge we face.
The above article is an edited version of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York on 22 September 2021. For the full text of the Prime Minister’s speech, visit: https://www.gov.uk/ government/speeches/pm-speech-at-the-un- general-assembly-22-september-2021
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