Alok Sharma, President of COP26, answers questions from MPs.
The President of COP26 was asked—
Post Covid-19 Economic Recovery: Climate Action
What steps he is taking to help ensure that climate action contributes to the post covid-19 economic recovery. (912519)
What steps he is taking to help ensure that climate action contributes to the post covid-19 economic recovery. (912527)
What steps the Government are taking to promote (a) climate action and (b) a green recovery from the covid-19 pandemic ahead of COP26. (912530)
We are determined to build back better and greener as we recover from covid-19. The Prime Minister’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution sets out the Government’s blueprint to grow the sunrise sector, support 250,000 green jobs and level up across the country.
The north-west, as you are well aware, Mr Speaker, is the heart of the UK nuclear industry, including Westinghouse nuclear fuels in my constituency. With the world increasingly focused on utilising low carbon energy sources, what steps is my right hon. Friend the President taking ahead of COP26 to promote UK-based nuclear energy production satisfying our future energy needs and supporting countless high-skilled jobs across the north-west?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Nuclear power clearly has a part to play in our clean energy mix, and he will know that in the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan we have committed to backing large-scale nuclear advanced modular reactors and small modular reactors—AMRs and SMRs. Of course, the sites such as the ones in my hon. Friend’s constituency are vital in terms of creating jobs and investment in the north-west.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new appointment. Does he agree that the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan will not only help places such as Meon Valley to build back better and greener from covid but level up all regions across the country?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The 10-point plan will be a catalyst to unleash innovation and jobs across the country. We are going to have a green industrial revolution, which is going to be powered by wind turbines in Scotland and the north-east, propelled by electric vehicles made in the midlands and, of course, supported by carbon capture clusters across our industrial heartlands.
Public transport is one of the cleanest modes of transport we have, as it helps to get thousands of carbon-emitting vehicles off our roads, but our public transport infrastructure, particularly rail, is woefully outdated in the north of England and simply not fit for purpose. Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore back my calls for the northern powerhouse rail scheme to be built in full, including a Bradford city centre station, to prove that we are taking this climate emergency seriously by getting more people on to public transport and more cars off our roads in the north and by providing good, green, sustainable jobs?
I certainly agree that we should be encouraging people to take public transport where that is possible. I come in from Reading to Paddington every day by train myself. The hon. Gentleman has raised a policy issue relating to the Department for Transport and I will ensure that I make representations on his behalf to the Secretary of State.
Next week, the Government will co-host a summit of the Powering Past Coal Alliance to boost international co-operation on the phasing out of coal, yet at the same time, Ministers are refusing to intervene here at home to prevent the opening of a new deep coal mine in Cumbria. The president knows full well that the proposed mine is not purely a local matter, that it will not help to secure the future of UK steel and that it will not provide the long-term secure jobs that Cumbrians need. However, it will increase emissions, undermine progress to our net zero target and damage our credibility as COP26 host. My question to him, therefore, is a simple one: in this critical year, why on earth are he and his Cabinet colleagues content to see this mine approved?
I note the hon. Gentleman’s point about the Powering Past Coal Alliance, and I am very proud that the UK is part of leading it. Of course, we have made significant progress in reducing coal as part of our energy mix over the last decade. It has come down from 40% to just under 2%, and I set out my detailed views on this issue at the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee hearing, as he will know. This is now a local matter; it is a local issue. Cumbria County Council is considering the application and, like him, I wait to see the outcome.
COP26: UK’s Objectives
What discussions he has had with (a) business owners and (b) other stakeholders on the UK’s objectives for COP26. (912520)
What steps he is taking to consult businesses in preparation for COP26. (912522)
Businesses have a vital role to play in tackling climate change through the COP26 business leaders group and, indeed, through other engagements in the UK and internationally. I have spoken directly with many hundreds of global businesses, and of course we are calling on businesses, investors and other non-state actors to sign up to the Race to Zero campaign and commit to achieving net zero emissions by 2050.
We are hugely proud of our diverse communities in West Bromwich East, and many of my constituents place great importance on the role of our allies across the world, especially in India, in working with the UK to tackle these global issues. Can my right hon. Friend update the House on the success of his recent international engagement?
I can tell my hon. Friend and, indeed, the House that, over the past few weeks, I have had productive discussions with Government Ministers on visits to Ethiopia, Gabon, Egypt, Nigeria, Nepal and India. She mentions India, and I met Prime Minister Modi in Delhi. I have also spoken to a range of other Governments, including the US special envoy, John Kerry, and China’s special envoy for climate change, Minister Xie Zhenhua, and I stressed the importance of the three key pillars of the Paris agreement: mitigation, adaptation and finance.
I am delighted that, on 1 July, the Minister responsible for science, research and innovation, my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Amanda Solloway), will be coming to Anglesey to open an innovation jobs fair I am organising alongside the Menai science park. This event will bring together innovative green businesses such as Moorlights and Beacon biocomposites to showcase their work. The event offers a perfect opportunity to put a spotlight on COP26 for the communities and businesses here in my Ynys Môn constituency. Will the COP President ensure that there will be resources available to help me do this?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s excellent work in supporting green jobs in her constituency. Of course, as host of the G7 and COP26, we want to showcase innovative British green businesses, such as those housed by the Menai science park in her constituency. I am delighted that the science Minister is opening her innovation jobs fair, and I know they will work closely together to ensure it is a success.
In those discussions with interested parties, did they ask why the UK’s objectives are so vague and so unambitious? Did they point out that the UK Government have missed a slew of targets on the climate change emergency and that there appears to be little to no effort being made to catch up? How can the UK Government pretend to any world leadership on this issue when they show such a marked reluctance to act at all?
I respectfully suggest to the hon. Lady that she look at the record of this Government in cutting emissions. We were the first major economy in the world to legislate for net zero and, of course, I hope she is pleased not just with the 10-point plan but with the very ambitious, nationally determined contribution that the Prime Minister set out last year.
Climate Change: Raising International Ambition
What progress the Government have made on raising international ambition to tackle climate change as part of preparations for COP26. (912529)
We have made progress over the past year, with net zero commitments from countries collectively accounting for 70% of global GDP and 75 world leaders announcing climate commitments at the climate ambition summit that the UK hosted last December with the UN and France. However, as I said at the time, we still have some way to go and 2021 will need to be a critical year for climate action.
I congratulate the President of COP26 on his new role and wish him well.
Stopping deforestation in the tropics is crucial to reducing global carbon emissions, and to protecting biodiversity and the lands of local indigenous communities. However, UK firms, including several high street banks, have been found to be investing heavily in businesses directly causing deforestation. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government should seek to expose and prevent these funding streams, and encourage our COP26 partners to follow suit?
My hon. Friend knows a great deal about these matters, and he makes a vital point about the incredibly valuable role of tropical forests. He will be aware that the UK is championing a new global taskforce on nature-related financial disclosures to tackle nature-related risks in investments.
With many developing nations further behind in the roll-out of their covid vaccinations, what steps is the COP President taking to ensure that every nation on earth is able to fully participate at COP26 in November?
The hon. Gentleman raises an incredibly important point. We want this to be the most inclusive COP ever and, of course, we are planning for it to be an in-person COP, while taking into account contingencies. The point about vaccines is important, because access to vaccines is not consistent globally. We will work very hard to ensure that we have a safe and inclusive COP for all.
I should point out that, more generally, the UK is supporting the COVAX facility and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and the Prime Minister has recently made it clear that we will send the majority of any future surplus of vaccine doses that the UK has to the COVAX scheme to support developing countries.
Consultation with Civil Society and Youth Groups
What steps he is taking to consult with (a) civil society and (b) youth groups in preparation for COP26. (912534)
This is the first COP ever for which we have set up an international civil society and youth advisory council—indeed, the next meeting of the group is later today. It is co-chaired by two young climate activists, one from the global north and one from the global south. I have committed to meet civil society groups and youth groups in every country that I visit, because I really want their voices to be front and centre and at the heart of COP26.
I welcome the appointment of my right hon. Friend to his role, which underlines how seriously the Government are taking their efforts to find international agreement on tackling climate change. The scale of the challenge ahead requires us to be innovative and to think outside the box. I pay tribute to the work done by local groups such as Hope Valley Climate Action, Transition Buxton, Sustainable Hayfield, Acclimatise Whaley and Transition New Mills. Is the President prepared to meet me and those groups to hear their ideas on how we can work together to tackle climate change?
My hon. Friend raises an important point, because local groups are vital to the delivery of many initiatives, not just in the UK but around the world. I pay tribute to him for his work in promoting climate action in his constituency and more widely. I will of course ensure that either I or members from the COP unit for civil society and the youth team will meet the organisations in his constituency to which he referred, particularly to hear their views.
Tackling Climate Change: Covid-19
What steps he has taken to maintain tackling climate change as a Government priority during the covid-19 pandemic. (912536)
Domestically, the Government have set out their 10-point plan, their energy White Paper and an ambitious nationally determined contribution. Over the past year, the Prime Minister and I, and other Ministers and officials, have regularly engaged with counterparts around the world to raise climate action ambition.
I welcome the President of COP26 to his new position and wish him every success. This year, 2021, is a key year in our battle against climate change, as we host COP26 and the G7 in Cornwall. Climate change is such an important issue for constituents in Truro and Falmouth, so will my right hon. Friend assure me that all areas of the UK, including Cornwall, will benefit from the developments that come from these two significant events, as we recover from the covid shock in a green and sustainable way?
Absolutely. It is of course very good news that the G7 is to be held in Cornwall, which is, as we know, a powerhouse for green innovation. It is home to pioneering offshore renewables technology, as well as the first geothermal plant in the UK, and I am sure it will play an important role as we seek to build back better and greener throughout the whole of our country.
If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. (912589)
Climate change is the biggest challenge faced by humanity. The world is, on average, already 1.2° C warmer than pre-industrial levels, and if we are to deliver on limiting temperature rises to below 2°—indeed, closer to 1.5°—we must collectively act with the utmost urgency. Countries must commit to ambitious near-term emissions reductions and set net zero targets, and donor countries must fulfil their commitments to the most climate-vulnerable nations.
Next month, the UK will host a climate and development international ministerial meeting to make progress on key climate finance-related issues. We want to ensure that the green thread of climate action runs through every international event on the road to COP26.
I, too, welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his position as President of COP26.
With Wales possessing the oldest housing stock in the UK, what lessons has the right hon. Gentleman learned from Welsh retrofitting schemes about the challenge of reducing residential emissions globally ahead of COP26?
Retrofitting will play an important role. The right hon. Lady will know that, as part of the 10-point plan, we have also set out plans for greening our buildings and making them more energy efficient. She has raised a very specific point, and I will ensure that the Secretaries of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and for Housing, Communities and Local Government are made aware of it.
The UK’s credibility as COP president rests on demonstratable climate action at home, yet much like the Government’s failed pandemic response, which has left 130,000 people dead, the Government are acting too slowly, prioritising profit over public wellbeing. The Government’s boasts of our road building, and their plans of cutting £1 billion from the public rail infrastructure budget and allowing the Cumbria coalmine to go ahead are simply not compatible with achieving net zero. Will the Minister therefore admit that the Government’s stated ideological beliefs are incompatible with even their own meagre climate goals?
I had always thought that climate action was an area that we could collectively coalesce around without the need for political name calling and fighting, but, unfortunately, that does not seem to be possible for the hon. Gentleman. I just point him to the record of this Government and say that, over the past 30 years across a range of Governments, the UK has managed to grow our economy by 75% and yet cut emissions by 43%. Green growth is possible, and that is what we are pursuing.
I call the shadow President, Ed Miliband.
I have never been called that before.
I warmly welcome the President of COP26 to his full- time role. It is in all our interests that he should succeed, and we want to do everything that we can to help. The central judgment of COP26’s success is whether it keeps alive the Paris target of limiting global warming to 1.5°. To make that happen, the UN says that we need to more than halve global greenhouse gas emissions from 52 gigatonnes today to 25 gigatonnes by 2030. Will he assure us that he recognises the scale of this challenge and the need for maximum ambition, and tell the House how close to that target he thinks we can get at COP26?
The shadow President raises a vitally important point. We did make progress towards the end of last year—70% of global GDP is now covered by the net zero target—but he is absolutely right when he alludes to the fact that what we need is near-term targets to 2030 to cut emissions. We are working very hard on that, and I am very happy to hear his thoughts on how we may be able to go faster.
A crucial issue for the success of the COP is international finance for developing countries, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, and they are facing poverty, the pandemic and climate change. Yet the Government have shamefully chosen this moment to cut £25 billion to £30 billion from overseas aid over the course of this Parliament. They say that they are protecting climate aid, but they have not set out what that means year on year, so will he guarantee today that, in the coming financial year when the COP takes place, there will be no cut to the level of the UK’s climate finance budget or to the climate programmes that we fund?
What I would say to the right hon. Gentleman is that, like him, I am very proud of the work that successive Governments have done in supporting the most vulnerable around the world. At 0.5% of gross national income, the UK will still remain a leading international aid donor. On the issue of international climate finance, he will know that, over a five-year period, our commitment is £11.6 billion, which is indeed a doubling of the last figure.
Zero Carbon Humber is a partnership that aims to build the world’s first net zero carbon industrial cluster while creating high-quality green jobs. My question simply is: will the COP President look kindly on its submission of interest to be part of COP26? (912593)
Of course, I am very positive about all these initiatives around the country, but the hon. Lady refers to a matter that I think sits under the Business Secretary. I am sure that when submissions come in they will be looked at very carefully.