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Boris Johnson draws criticism for plans to fly home from Glasgow climate summit

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivers a speech during a meeting focused on action and solidarity at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, on Monday. (Kevin Lamarque/AFP/Getty Images)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson drew heat Monday for planning to return to London from the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, on a private plane, just hours after warning in a speech that time was running out on the “doomsday clock” to save the planet.

Johnson is among many world leaders and business executives who chartered planes for travel to the United Nations-backed conference, which is focused on securing commitments from heads of state to lower carbon emissions.

“Boris Johnson says he wants Britain to be a ‘world leader’ on tackling the climate crisis. He also will be flying from Glasgow to London tomorrow, one week after slashing taxes on domestic flights,” Zarah Sultana, a member of Parliament from the Labour Party, wrote on Twitter Monday.

Johnson’s spokesperson defended the move, saying that traveling by train would take too long. The rail journey takes about four to six hours, while flights between Glasgow and London last around an hour and a half.

“It is important that the Prime Minister is able to move around the country and obviously we face significant time constraints,” the spokesperson said, noting that the prime minister’s plane “is one of the most carbon-efficient planes of its size in the world.”

The plane, an Airbus A321, emits 50 percent less carbon dioxide than a Voyager plane — the type Johnson usually uses, the Guardian reported. This plane uses a blend of 35 percent sustainable aviation fuel and 65 percent normal fuel, the spokesperson said.

In an impassioned speech at the global climate summit on Nov. 1, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined how each degree of warming would impact humanity. (Video: The Washington Post)

Prince Charles also flew from Rome to Glasgow on a private plane that used sustainable aviation fuel, a biofuel made from plants or waste. It remains significantly more expensive than conventional jet fuel.

British Airways has collaborated with oil and gas company BP to acquire sustainable aviation fuel for all of its flights between London, Glasgow and Edinburgh during the COP26 summit.

The fuel is blended with traditional fuel to comply with certifications standards, the company said, and “provides a lifecycle carbon reduction of up to 80 percent compared to traditional jet fuel.”

The airline has pledged to go carbon neutral by 2050, and aviation industry leaders insist they can make flying green. But criticisms over Johnson’s flight have revived a fraught debate about the ethics of air travel on a rapidly warming planet.

Climate activists are urging people to seek other routes. Hundreds of activists arrived in Glasgow on Saturday evening on the Rail to the COP “Climate Train” that had traveled through the Netherlands and Belgium.

Ambassadors and politicians joined them on board to discuss sustainable transportation and the fight against climate change, British media reported.

More on climate change

Understanding our climate: Global warming is a real phenomenon, and weather disasters are undeniably linked to it. As temperatures rise, heat waves are more often sweeping the globe — and parts of the world are becoming too hot to survive.

What can be done? The Post is tracking a variety of climate solutions, as well as the Biden administration’s actions on environmental issues. It can feel overwhelming facing the impacts of climate change, but there are ways to cope with climate anxiety.

Inventive solutions: Some people have built off-the-grid homes from trash to stand up to a changing climate. As seas rise, others are exploring how to harness marine energy.

What about your role in climate change? Our climate coach Michael J. Coren is answering questions about environmental choices in our everyday lives. Submit yours here. You can also sign up for our Climate Coach newsletter.

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