PM tells humanity to 'grow up' and references Kermit the Frog in key UN climate speech

23 September 2021, 05:49 | Updated: 23 September 2021, 06:12

Boris Johnson compared humans to an immature teenager
Boris Johnson compared humans to an immature teenager. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Boris Johnson has told world leaders it is time for humanity to "grow up" as he compared it to an immature teenager in a key climate speech.

Addressing the UN General Assembly, the Prime Minister admitted he had changed his views on environmental causes since his days as a newspaper columnist.

In a meandering speech, he made references to famous Muppet Kermit the Frog and a Greek writer as he said the upcoming COP26 climate summit in Glasgow is "the turning point for humanity".

The Covid pandemic was an example of "gloomy scientists being proved right", he said.

Mr Johnson added: "The world - this precious blue sphere with its eggshell crust and wisp of an atmosphere - is not some indestructible toy, some bouncy plastic romper room against which we can hurl ourselves to our heart's content.

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"Daily, weekly, we are doing such irreversible damage that long before a million years are up, we will have made this beautiful planet effectively uninhabitable - not just for us but for many other species.

"And that is why the Glasgow COP26 summit is the turning point for humanity."

Mr Johnson has travelled to the US for talks with President Joe Biden and to drum up support, amid the UN gathering, for international action on climate change ahead of COP26.

That summit will take place in Glasgow from late October to early November and is designed to ensure quicker action on the Paris Agreement, which aims to keep global temperature rises to below 2C.

In his speech to the General Assembly, the PM said humans had been around for about 200,000 years and that the average mammalian species exists for about a million years before it evolves or dies out – suggesting homo sapiens are, relatively speaking, "now sweet 16".

He said: "We have come to that fateful age when we know roughly how to drive and we know how to unlock the drinks cabinet and to engage in all sorts of activity that is not only potentially embarrassing but also terminal.

"In the words of the Oxford philosopher Toby Ord, 'we are just old enough to get ourselves into serious trouble'."

And addressing his past working in the media, he admitted that "if you were to excavate some of my articles from 20 years ago you might find comments I made, obiter dicta, about climate change that weren't entirely supportive of the current struggle, but the facts change and people change their minds and change their views and that's very important too".

However, the PM added he was not an environmentalist who enjoyed "excoriating humanity for its excess" or viewing the cause as "a pretext for a wholesale assault on capitalism".

"My friends, the adolescence of humanity is coming to an end," he said, calling for a 68% cut to carbon emissions by 68% by 2030 compared to their 1990 levels.

He also praised China's pledge to stop financing coal internationally and congratulated Pakistan on its bid to plant 10 billion trees.

True to Mr Johnson's form, the speech ended addressing the Muppet Kermit the Frog, saying he was wrong to sing "It's Not Easy Bein' Green".

Referencing an ancient Greek writer, the PM said: "Sophocles is often quoted as saying that there are many terrifying things in the world, but none is more terrifying than mankind, and it is certainly true that ... we are uniquely capable of our own destruction, and the destruction of everything around us.

"But if you look at the Greek, Sophocles actually said ... was that man is deinos and terrifying isn't quite right as far as a translation for deinos. What Sophocles really means is humanity is awesome - both terrifying but also awesome.

"We have an awesome power to change things and to change things for the better, and an awesome power to save ourselves.

"In the next 40 days, we have to choose, the world has to choose what kind of awesome we're going to be."