Because despite Boris Johnson’s boasts, the Tories have little to be proud of (Picture: Kirsty O’Connor/PA Wire)

Boris Johnson boasts of ‘setting a blistering pace’ on action to tackle the climate emergency.

He’s so proud of his government’s achievements it’s a wonder that he didn’t take part in the first-ever election debate on climate so he could tell us all about them.

Yet Boris Johnson couldn’t be bothered to show up, sending along Michael Gove in his place at the last minute to try to muscle his way into the Channel 4 studio. This wasn’t only disrespectful to the broadcaster, it was a sign of panic.

Because despite Boris Johnson’s boasts, the Tories have little to be proud of. Their record over the past five years has taken us backwards in the struggle to halt growing emissions, and they have nothing to offer for the future. Their manifesto doesn’t even mention climate change until page 43 – hardly the response you’d want for something even they acknowledge is an emergency.

They are panicking too because they know the climate crisis is rising rapidly up the political agenda, with many voters saying it is one of the most important issues.

Three reports this week have underscored the scale of the crisis. First, from the World Meteorological Organisation saying the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen steeply and is now at a level last seen 3-5million years ago, when sea levels were 10-20 metres higher than they are today.

Then a warning from the United Nations that the window of opportunity to start driving down emissions is rapidly closing. Thirdly, and perhaps most alarming of all, a warning from scientists that critical parts of the Earth’s climate could be breaking down sooner than they’d predicted.

Irreversible changes in the climate could happen within a few decades, with one shift amplifying the impact of another.

Boris Johnson accuses MPs of dither and delay over Brexit – that is precisely his approach to the climate crisis (Picture: Kirsty O’Connor/Pool via REUTERS)

No wonder the former chief scientific adviser to the government, Sir David King, says we should be scared. Not only are we facing a climate emergency, it’s accelerating even faster than scientists had predicted.

The schoolchildren marching today on yet another climate strike, the protesters of Extinction Rebellion who occupied parts of London last month, the growing numbers of voters who say this is the key issue of the election all recognise the scale of the emergency. They are all demanding government action, yet what has been the response?

A net zero emissions target for 2050, which is far too late to have an impact on a rapidly accelerating emergency. We do not have the policies in place to put us on course to achieve this, let alone the interim emissions targets, and the gap is widening all the time.

Boris Johnson accuses MPs of dither and delay over Brexit – that is precisely his approach to the climate crisis. He thinks he has ticked the climate box because Parliament has declared a climate emergency. But this doesn’t bring down emissions. Action does, and there is very little of it.

Channel 4 deserve credit for hosting this first-ever leadership debate on climate – a programme that was hard to imagine even two years ago. That is how fast the political mood is changing.

The Green Party has been in the forefront of demands for action on climate, and some of the other parties are beginning to catch up with climate policies of their own.

Somehow, the Conservatives just don’t get it.

A frozen ice sculpture, thawing steadily under the warm studio lights, was a perfect metaphor for them. It didn’t thaw completely during the one hour programme – perhaps a sign that there is still time for the Tories to wake up to the crisis.

But they need to hurry.

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