UK seeking to restore trust between wealthy and developing states to forge Cop26 deal

Ambassador stresses need for developed countries to ‘put their money where their mouth is’ on climate change

British ambassador to Ireland Paul Johnston. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

The UK, as Cop26 host, is making intensive efforts to recreate trust between developed and developing countries, which was critical to securing the 2015 Paris climate agreement, in an effort to deliver a strong outcome from the UN summit in Glasgow, British ambassador to Ireland Paul Johnston has said.

“Recreating trust... is really important. It’s one of the reasons we have been keen to highlight climate finance, and the need for richer countries to put their money where their mouth is in terms of helping vulnerable countries and communities to adapt to climate impacts,” he told The Irish Times.

An experienced negotiator at UN level, Mr Johnston acknowledged the outcome was in the balance, especially on achieving one of the primary objectives; keeping the Paris temperature target of 1.5 degrees alive.

In attempting to build that trust, the UK committed £11.6 billion in climate finance for the 2021-2025 period and was continuing to push for this type of funding to be provided on a continuing basis from 2030, he said.


The UN has indicated a global promise made in 2009 of $100 billion a year for climate-vulnerable developing countries may not materialise until 2023.

The developed world had grown rich, in part, through “not environmentally-friendly practices”, the ambassador pointed out, while from his time in the UN he knew there was a double standard applied to developing countries in “telling them they cannot do the same thing”.

The difference now, he believed, was the different economic routes and technologies available. These should be underpinned by partnerships with the developing world across sustainable agriculture, innovation, providing finance and sharing ideas.

Strong alliance

In getting countries to increase ambitions under their nationally determined contributions (NDCs), the UK was forging a strong alliance with the US.

The climate commitment of US president Joe Biden was the big change in building confidence in advance of Cop26, he said, which was reinforced by a strong relationship between British prime minister Boris Johnson and US climate envoy John Kerry.

On China and Russia, while their respective leaders were not at Cop26, he said the UK remained hopeful their NDCs would include producing credible pathways to net-zero emissions, and that they would lean in to collective efforts on climate finance, decarbonisation, EVs and addressing deforestation.

Mr Johnston acknowledged significant policy differences on other issues including the human rights agenda but hoped they could be set aside, and that China and Russia “do the right thing by the planet”.

He confirmed a series of declarations and commitments with other countries would be announced by the UK in coming days on “theme days” covering finance, transport, nature, gender and science and innovation.

“This is to create a sense of momentum; shared endeavour as we build up towards the climax; that people are seeing commitment to take new action... and this will foster perhaps a greater sense of ambition and confidence across the two weeks.”

There is a lot of spinning plates to keep going over the fortnight, Mr Johnston said, and recognition that the latest UN report indicates the world is facing a 2.7 degree rise. To reinforce its credibility, the UK had a legally-binding commitment to reduce its emissions by 68 per cent by 2030 based on 1990 levels.


While there was scepticism about whether this could be achieved, it had reduced emissions over the past 30 years by more than 40 per cent, coinciding with economic growth of 75 per cent.

The UK government was providing £26 billion in public money with the intention that three times that amount in private investment would be leveraged by 2030. With relentless use of innovative technology and relentless political commitment, this was realisable, he said. Within the context of Cop26, this course was doable if people committed at the level required.

The UK position recognised the wider challenge beyond containing temperature rise, and that the climate and biodiversity agendas were “absolutely integral”. In that regard, its government had committed to deliver a “nature positive future”, where more of its largest new infrastructure projects must leave nature and biodiversity in an overall better state than before development.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times