COP26: Boris Johnson speaks at Glasgow summit
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During his appearance at the COP26 summit in Glasgow this week, the Prime Minister reiterated the importance of curbing greenhouse emissions across the globe. Mr Johnson warned that the clock is ticking down to doomsday and that is within the hands of the more than 100 world leaders at the summit to do something about. He said: “The longer we fail to act, the worse it gets and the higher price when we are eventually forced by catastrophe to act because humanity has long since run down the clock on climate change.
“It’s one minute to midnight on that doomsday clock and we need to act now.”
But no matter how powerful the Prime Minister’s words may have been, experts believe his actions spoke much louder.
It was reported this week that Mr Johnson left the climate summit in Glasgow on a private jet, heading to London’s Stansted Airport for an exclusive dinner a the men-only Garrick Club.
When asked why he did not take a more eco-friendly train trip down to the capital, Mr Johnson’s spokesman claimed it was important the Prime Minister can freely travel around the country despite “significant time constraints”.
Steve Westlake, a PhD researcher at Cardiff University’s School of Psychology, has now told Express.co.uk the Prime Minister’s actions have sent out a mixed message.
Mr Westlake research explores how leading by example can influence behaviours and attitudes towards climate change, particularly from high-profile figures.
If the Prime Minister had travelled to and from the summit by train, he said, his calls to action would have likely resonated much more clearly with the public.
Mr Westlake said: “I think it’s really good that he’s pushing really hard on climate change and is committed to net zero because that is the most important thing and the UK has some strong targets.
“So it’s good that he’s on that agenda but there are some mixed messages with regards to the seriousness really.
“For instance, he’s taking a private plane away from the COP conference, from Glasgow to London, and that sends a mixed message when a train is available and he’s saying very strong things about the need to reduce emissions.”
Greta Thunberg fumes at world leaders and COP26 in rant
According to Mr Westlake, many of the world’s leaders have highlighted in recent months the need for strong and decisive action.
However, he noted many have failed to display those actions themselves, leading to a lack of consistency in their message.
Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, has recently come under fire after she reportedly jetted around Europe on short trips that could have otherwise been taken by train.
US President Joe Biden has similarly risked the wrath of environmental groups after he drove through Rome in an 85-car motorcade.
In stark contrast, climate activist Greta Thunberg has been consistently travelling around the globe by eco-friendly means.
When she arrived in Glasgow last week, she did so by train, and when she travelled to New York City for the United Nations’ 2019 Climate Action Summit, she did so on a 60ft, emissions-free yacht.
Mr Westlake said: “They’re very obviously different figures.
“Obviously Greta is a young school striker and became an activist, and the symbolism of what she does is very different.
“In effect, you could say they appeal to different audiences.
“So Greta has become a figurehead, a leader for a huge movement – not just young people.”
Being a politician, the expert argued, is a very different role that has it own unique challenges and responsibilities.
However, he added: “But the symbolic actions are powerful and you can tell they’re powerful because of both the support and opposition to them. Greta got a lot of criticism for them.
“But politicians are very aware of symbolism and what their actions and words would convey.”
Mr Johnson has famously vowed to lie down in front of Heathrow bulldozers to stop the expansion of the airport’s third runway, which according to Mr Westlake, was a very powerful gesture that resonated strongly with certain audiences.
When asked whether the Prime Minister can do better than is he doing right now, Mr Westlake said: “Absolutely. We need everything.
“The time for incremental change and slow change is gone.
“That could have happened 30 years ago or 20 years ago.”
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