In his speech to the high-level debate at the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared that it is time for mankind to grow up and take responsibility for the damage we are inflicting on the planet.

The human species, said Mr. Johnson, is nearing the end of the adolescent phase of its evolutionary lifespan. He referred to November’s COP26 UN climate conference, which he is hosting in the Scottish city of Glasgow, as the moment to show that mankind is capable of learning and maturing.

“Daily, weekly, we are doing such irreversible damage that, long before a million years [of humankind] are up, we will have made this beautiful planet effectively uninhabitable, not just for us but for many other species”, said the Prime Minister.

‘Our grandchildren will know that we are the culprits’

Business as usual, warned the UK leader, will see temperatures going up by more than 2.7 degrees or more by the end of the century, with disastrous consequences, because of human action. “Our grandchildren”, he said, “will know 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, declared Mr. Johnson, the world must pledge to achieve carbon neutrality by the middle of the century. Countries representing 70 per cent of the world’s GDP have committed to this objective, he said, but commitments are needed in four areas to make substantial reductions: an end to coal power, a transition to electric vehicles, climate finance, and the planting of trees.

On the subject of coal, Mr. Johnson said that green technology has led to emission cuts in the UK, with electricity from coal due to be phased out by 2024, and to the installation of wind turbines. 

Mr. Johnson noted the UK’s contribution to the rapid growth of the electric vehicle market, which involves ending the sale of hydrocarbon internal combustion engines by 2030, and called for international cooperation to ensure that, by 2040, there are only zero emission vehicles on sale anywhere in the world.

The UK Prime Minister said that the country will strengthen flood protection by planting millions more trees, and called on nations to follow the example of Pakistan, which has pledged to plant 10 billion trees.

With regards to climate finance, Mr. Johnson recalled the UK’s commitment to provide £11.6 billion to help the rest of the world tackle climate change, and praised financial pledges made by Denmark and the United States. However, national commitments from governments, he added, are not enough, and the private sector must also be leveraged, via international financial institutions, to make the necessary investment.

‘Blow out the candles of a world on fire’

As well as tackling climate change, declared Mr. Johnson, such investments will produce millions of high wage, high skill jobs. Start-ups, he noted, are already producing solutions to the climate crisis, from feed that lowers livestock methane emissions, to robotics and AI that enhance food production.

“These technological breakthroughs, said the Prime Minister, will cut the cost for consumers, so that we have nothing to fear and everything to gain from this green industrial revolution.” 

Looking ahead to COP26, Mr. Johnson described the climate conference as a opportunity to grow up, a metaphorical “16th birthday party for humanity”, at which the world can celebrate a coming of age, and “blow out the candles of a world on fire”.

Read the full statement here.