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Sacked chief planned to "re-energise" climate change summit

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The former head of the global summit on climate change has warned of a “yawning gap” between the world’s expectations and action from global leaders.


Writing to the Prime Minister after she was sacked from her post, Claire O'Neill, painted a troubling picture of the conference – the main event to tackle climate change – dogged by bureaucracy and financial talk.

She said last year’s COP (conference of the parties) in Madrid was “particularly awful”: “While half a million climate action protestors gathered in the streets, I sat in plenary sessions where global negotiators debated whether our meeting should be classified as “Informal” or “Informal-Informal”.

“Others argued over the structure of tabs, tables and colours in reports (rather than the commitments countries would make) and some of the world’s wealthiest oil-rich countries made their annual demand for global funding to offset the damage all this low carbon planning would do to their economy.”

Climate change protests in Madrid last year outside the 2019 Conference of the Parties (COP). Photograph: Flickr

O’Neill said she’d been determined to re-energise COP 26, which the UK hosts in Glasgow in November, before she was dismissed on 31 January.

She said the Prime Minister had failed to give her support: “When you asked me to be your COP President you promised to “lead from the front” and asked me what was needed “money, people, just tell us!”  Sadly, these promises and offers are not close to being met.”

In a statement Prime Minister Boris Johnson thanked Mrs O'Neill for her work so far. "Preparations will continue at pace for the summit, and a replacement will be confirmed shortly," it said.

Boris Johnson is under increasing pressure to appoint a new president of the UN climate summit, the Guardian reported, with Michael Gove emerging as the most "hotly tipped" choice in Westminster.

Known as COP26, the 2020 summit is expected to be the most important climate change conference since the Paris agreement was signed in 2015.

It will see up to 200 heads of government, climate experts and business leaders meet to draw up a new strategy in response to the climate emergency.

Read the resignation letter in full here

Leaders convening at the 2015 COP in Paris

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