Source: Twitter/@BorisJohnson

Boris Johnson said that if COP26 were to fail, the world would have lost its only viable mechanism for dealing with climate change

‘Two weeks to save the planet’ was the billing as the G20 gathered in Rome last week, to give an eve-of-summit boost for the pivotal COP26 meeting now underway in Glasgow – or so the script was meant to go.

In the event, the G20 (whose members account for 80% of global greenhouse emissions) came up short, leading a visibly deflated Boris Johnson to say that after “hundreds of summits, speeches, press conferences like this” the “words and promises” dating back to the start of the COP process were “starting to sound, frankly, hollow” and some of the commitments made were simply “drops in a rapidly warming ocean”.

He went on to say if COP26 were to fail, the world would have lost its only viable mechanism for dealing with climate change. He underlined that keeping alive the Paris Agreement to limit temperature rises to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels would mean halving emissions by 2030, rather than simply achieving net zero “by or around mid-century” as the G20 communiqué put it.

Read more: COP26 must trigger a mindset shift around food

But the reality is total emissions are still rising – and on a trajectory to take us to 2.7 degrees or more – leaving a very limited window to stop irreversible change.

Early signs are that at least some of these warnings are going to be heeded before Glasgow concludes. But with China and India pushing their responses out to 2060 and 2070 respectively (and Russia saying nothing) there would still appear to be huge gaps in what needs to be done.

This pick and mix approach to dates and actions reminds me of the caucus race in Alice in Wonderland. Everyone was free to begin running when they liked and stop when they liked, meaning no one had any idea when the race was over. Asked who had won, the Dodo eventually says: “Everyone has won and all must have prizes.” In this case, everyone will lose, with all the consequences that would bring.

Understandably enough, the current focus on saving the world has eclipsed the immediate and ongoing supply chain crisis here. All the more extraordinary then, that the UK and France have still managed to find enough political oxygen to worry about fishing rights in the Channel. But, as French essayist Michel de Montaigne wrote: two people stranded on a desert island are always going to argue over who owns which half.