10 March 2021
Alok Sharma responds to debate on the COP26 Climate Conference

Alok Sharma, President of COP26, responds to debate on the COP26 (Conference of the Parties) Climate Conference.

COP26 President (Alok Sharma)

Climate change is the biggest challenge we face as a global community and we know that it does not take time off. Year after year, the world is experiencing the increasingly damaging effects of a rise in global temperatures. Last year was, on a par with 2016, the hottest year ever recorded. We witnessed wildfires blaze across Australia, Europe and the US west coast. We saw flooding and locusts destroying crops in east Africa. Earlier this year, Cyclone Ana hit Fiji, sending thousands fleeing to evacuation centres. Through my work on COP26, I have witnessed the devastating impacts of climate change: melting glaciers, sea level rises, crop degradation, deforestation and pollution choking some of the world’s greatest cities. I have spoken to the communities on the frontline of the fight against climate change. I have spoken to them about how their lives have been disrupted, how their livelihoods are threatened, how their homes are at risk. We cannot go on as we are.

I thank the Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones), for opening this debate on COP26, which we all want to see as a decisive and positive moment in the battle against climate change. He spoke with great eloquence, as have other right hon. and hon. Members. I want to thank my hon. Friends the Members for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) and for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami) for their very kind words. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin) and other colleagues for their offers of support on the road to COP26. I also thank the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook) for offering the Opposition’s support as we go forward. What we all agree is that this is an issue that unites us. It unites us in a common mission to protect our planet and our people.

Tackling climate change is a clear priority for the Government. We were the first major economy in the world to legislate for net zero by 2050, and since 2000 we have decarbonised our economy faster than any other G20 country. Last year, the Prime Minister set out his 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution: a plan to cut emissions, but at the same time to create high-value green jobs and turbocharge the economy. As colleagues on both sides of the House have acknowledged, we have also set an ambitious and world-leading commitment to cut our own emissions by at least 68% by 2030 on the base year of 1990. Of course now, through our presidency of COP26, we have a unique opportunity to drive global ambition but also action.

Colleagues have raised a range of issues, and I would like to focus on three of the key topics that have come up. First, what are our aims for COP26? What are we planning to achieve? Secondly, do we have the resources to deliver? Thirdly, how are the practical planning and logistics for the event progressing?

I can tell the House that we have four key aims for COP26.We are asking nations: first, to commit to global net zero and, vitally, as colleagues have noted, to come forward with ambitious 2030 emissions reductions targets that align with net zero and keep the goal of limiting average global temperature rises to 1.5° within reach; secondly, to set out plans urgently to protect communities and natural habitats and to help them to adapt to the damaging effects of climate change; thirdly, to agree funding to support these aims, making good on the $100 billion commitment in public finances that was agreed at Paris and, of course, also unleashing private finance. I agree with colleagues when they say that the $100 billion figure is totemic. It is a matter of trust for vulnerable countries, for developing nations, and donor countries must deliver on that. At the end of this month, we will be holding a climate and development event. It will be a ministerial event, attended by Ministers from donor countries and from vulnerable countries, but it will also involve civil society, and we will talk about the issues around climate finance. Fourthly, we want to work to close off the outstanding elements of the Paris rulebook and accelerate delivery of the Paris goals through collaboration between Governments, businesses and civil society.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne) mentioned article 6. He is absolutely right; it is one of the items that we will have to close off, as well as timelines for submitting further nationally determined contributions, reporting transparency, and, of course, delivering through the energy transition, nature and transport campaigns that we are running as part of COP26.

We have made progress to date. When the UK took on the COP presidency, less than 30% of global GDP was covered by net zero commitments. That figure stands at 70% today, and it includes Japan, South Korea, the USA and China. In December last year, the UK co-hosted the Climate Ambition Summit, with 75 world leaders making concrete commitments to tackling climate change. However, as hon. Members have noted, the UNFCCC NDC synthesis report, which was published last month, demonstrates that we have much, much more to do when it comes to these near-term emissions reductions targets.

Colleagues have rightly asked if we have adequate resources dedicated to the task in hand. In summary, the answer is yes. I am supported by the full weight of the British Government in this endeavour, with the Prime Minister leading from the front. He chairs the UK Government’s climate action strategy Cabinet Committee, which sets the UK’s path to net zero, and I chair the UK Government’s climate action implementation Cabinet Committee, which sets the UK’s delivery of its climate plans. This means that there is full Cabinet oversight of policy and delivery.

With regards to the resourcing of COP26, I can tell the House that there are over 200 posts in the COP26 unit, and a number of Departments have also created dedicated COP26 teams, including Her Majesty’s Treasury, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. In the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, all heads of mission have been instructed by the Foreign Secretary to make delivery of COP26 objectives a top priority. They are supported by our overseas network of over 430 climate and energy attachés. This is the world’s first diplomatic network dedicated to this agenda.

I, of course, am now working full time on COP26. I have personally engaged with Ministers in more than 50 Governments, including recently with India’s Prime Minister Modi, US special envoy John Kerry, who was here on Monday for discussions with us, and China’s special envoy for climate change, Minister Xie Zhenhua.

Of course, we will work with like-minded colleagues around the world to deliver at Glasgow. I speak regularly with negotiating group chairs and chief negotiators, the United Nations, development banks, civil society groups and business. In recent weeks, I have also made a number of international visits, where I have always felt well supported by the UK Government network. All in all, we are well resourced for COP.

Turning to event logistics and planning, COP26, as colleagues have noted, will be the biggest international summit that the UK has ever hosted. It might be useful if I explain to the House how the event will work. It will be delivered across two sites. The Scottish events campus will be the United Nations-managed space. It will host the formal negotiations and will see delegates from 197 parties come together, alongside accredited observer organisations.

On the other side of the River Clyde, in the Glasgow Science Centre, the UK Government will host a platform for the general public and stakeholders to have their voices heard through events, exhibitions, workshops and talks that promote dialogue, awareness, education and commitments in the climate change space. As part of our preparations, Glasgow City Council has launched a host city volunteer programme for COP26. I can tell the House that it has received an overwhelmingly positive response, with more than 7,000 applications to date, far exceeding the 1,000 volunteers that we need.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell) will be pleased to note that through the “Together for our planet” campaign, which we launched last November, we will work with partners to inspire the public across the UK to be more engaged in climate action in the run-up to COP26. I agree that we cannot have an event that is seen by the general public as one where world leaders fly in and fly out without any connection to the lives of people across our country and, indeed, across the world.

I have also established an international civil society and youth advisory council to support our COP preparations and to ensure that we deliver an inclusive COP. We are progressing planning for an in-person event, with consideration of how we can best use technology to increase inclusion and sustainability. In addition, robust contingency plans for the range of covid-19 scenarios are being prepared, so that we can rapidly adapt were it to prove necessary.

My team has regular engagement with the Scottish Government and Scottish operational delivery partners through a monthly operational delivery board. We have a joint delivery framework that has been agreed with partners, including the Scottish Government, endorsing an inclusive, all-UK approach to COP26. I have also invited Climate Change Ministers from the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive to participate in a devolved Administrations group to ensure effective engagement and collaboration on COP26. I can confirm that the next meeting is scheduled for later this month.

A number of colleagues raised the issue of budgets. Discussions on costs for COP26 are ongoing and final budgets are yet to be confirmed, but let me be very clear to the House that we will ensure that the right resources are made available for this summit. Of course, we also want to deliver the event in a manner that represents value for money for the taxpayer, and we are following robust procurement, assurance and peer review processes.

We have also secured sponsorship to take the cost burden off the taxpayer. Our current principal partners are SSE, ScottishPower, Sky, Sainsbury’s, NatWest Group, National Grid and Hitachi, and we are actively seeking more. We will ensure that this event is safe, secure, sustainable and inclusive, and above all that it leaves a lasting legacy in the United Kingdom, allowing Glasgow to flourish as the host city.

I very much welcome the interest from hon. Members and Select Committees, and of course from all the all-party parliamentary groups that have shown an interest in COP. I think that is right and proper, and I have said that I will engage as much as I can with parliamentarians and all-party groups and work with them so that we can bring about success at COP26.

In conclusion, I do not underestimate the challenge of delivering on all our goals for COP26. That is why we are putting the full weight of the UK Government, working with partners around the world, behind our efforts. I also want to see the green thread of climate action running deep through our G7 presidency and, indeed, through the range of international events that will happen between now and COP26. As an international community, we must deliver at Glasgow, for the sake of our generation and future generations.