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Boris Johnson spoke more about Churchill than climate change policy in conference speech

Boris Johnson's keynote speech made reference to climate change policy just four times, with other ministers ignoring the subject entirely.

In November, the UK will host COP26, widely billed as a critical climate conference for the planet. Image: Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street

Boris Johnson spent almost three times as long speaking about Churchill than climate change policy in his keynote speech at the Conservative Party conference.

The PM gestured to UK climate policy just four times in the 45 minute speech, which he made three weeks before the UK hosts COP26, the biggest climate event in a generation.

Across all seven speeches given by Conservative ministers at the conference, direct references to climate change policy were made on five occasions by just two ministers – Johnson and Liz Truss. 

Environment secretary George Eustice was not given a slot as a keynote speaker.

Johnson’s speech made four direct references to climate policy, mentioning the introduction of “4,000 clean green buses” to UK roads, Britain’s “Net Zero by 2050” policy, a pledge to “consecrate” 30 per cent of the country to nature, and a pledge to “sort out our energy supply” with “more wind [and] more nuclear”.

In total, these references accounted for around 34 seconds of the speech.

The PM went on to speak about Winston Churchill and defend Britain’s “history and cultural inheritance” in a section of the speech that lasted for around a minute and a half – almost three times as long as his references to climate policy. 

Truss made one reference to green policy in her keynote speech, saying Britain’s “new cleaner, greener investment into developing countries will mean more jobs for British architects, engineers and technologists.”

Rishi Sunak, Dominic Raab and Sajid Javid made no reference to climate change or related issues in their speeches, while Priti Patel and Oliver Dowden’s sole references to climate change were related to criticisms of protest group Insulate Britain.

“I will not tolerate so called ecowarriors, trampling over our way of life and draining police resources. 

“Their actions over recent weeks have amounted to some of the most self-defeating ‘environmental’ protests this country has ever seen,” Patel said of the protesters. 

Dowden called the protesters “arrogant Labour activists”, while Johnson lauded Patel for taking “new powers to insulate them [the protesters] snugly in prison where they belong”.

While just two ministers gestured to climate change policy in their speeches, three spoke about “cancel culture” and four mentioned Churchill and/or Margaret Thatcher. 

The Buckinghamshire village of Stoke Poges got the same number of mentions (four) as climate policy in Johnson’s speech. 

The Times newspaper was reportedly briefed earlier in the week that the PM would include a pledge for 100% low carbon electricity generation by 2035 in his keynote address.

This failed to materialise in the speech and instead was confirmed in a press release from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.

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In early November, the UK will host delegates from around the world for COP26, with Boris Johnson expected to lead by example on decisive climate policy.

Johnson’s government is yet to deliver several policies and papers promised before COP26, however, including details of the UK’s strategy for reaching net zero emissions by 2050 and The Heat and Buildings Strategy for decarbonising the UK’s buildings stock. 

In August, Lord Deben, chair of the government’s independent climate adviser the Climate Change Committee (CCC) warned that the delay in publishing the net zero emissions strategy has left a space for climate sceptics to “complain, attack and undermine” the target on cost grounds. 

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