Alok Sharma, President of COP26, answers MPs’ questions.
Oral Answers to Questions
The President of COP26 was asked—
Climate Change: International Engagement
What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on increasing international engagement on climate change ahead of COP26. (900910)
I am in regular contact with Cabinet colleagues on COP26, including on co-ordinating our international engagement. The Prime Minister and Ministers across Government are raising climate change with international counterparts to secure ambitious climate commitments by November this year.
Does the President agree that diplomatic efforts ahead of COP will need to be more than discussions with other states, and with non-state actors as well? What discussions is he having with non-governmental organisations—in particular, with the Under2 Coalition—ahead of COP, and what role does he envisage their playing in November?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. We want this to be the most inclusive COP ever. As he will know, we have set up a civil society and youth advisory group, which is an opportunity for groups from the global south and the global north to come together and discuss issues. I can say to him that, ahead of the climate and development ministerial meeting we had on 31 March, we took a lot of feedback from this grouping in deciding what we needed to discuss.
Many stake- holders that would normally engage at COP26—civil society groups, NGOs, politicians, business leaders—still do not have clarity about how they will engage at COP in November. I understand the difficulties related to the pandemic, but can the President give the House an update today on when guidance will be provided to stakeholders about online versus offline and whether presence will be allowed in Glasgow?
I have always been clear, and I reiterated in a speech I gave in Glasgow with six months to go to COP, that we want this to be a physical event. That is the basis on which we are planning, and we are ensuring that we are exploring all measures to ensure this is covid- secure—safe for the people of Glasgow and, of course, safe for participants as well.
The recent G7 agreement on an international minimum corporation tax shows the significant progress that can be made at such forums. What can the President-designate tell us about the environmental Marshall plan the Prime Minister reportedly intends pursuing at the G7, and how will that impact on the discussions he is currently having with other countries in his capacity as COP President?
Matters related to what G7 leaders are discussing will of course come forward in the communiqué at the end of that process, and that is up to the Prime Minister and his fellow leaders. What I can tell the hon. Member is that we had a successful Climate and Environment Ministers meeting of the G7, which I co-chaired together with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. In that meeting, we made commitments on overwhelmingly decarbonising power systems in the 2030s in the G7 countries, but also commitments on phasing out fossil fuel support overseas.
Climate Action and Green Recovery
What steps the Government are taking to promote climate action and a green recovery from the covid-19 pandemic ahead of COP26. (900911)
What steps the Government are taking to promote climate action and a green recovery from the covid-19 pandemic ahead of COP26. (900919)
The Prime Minister’s 10-point plan sets out our blueprint for a green industrial revolution. The plan invests in green technologies and industries. It leverages billions of pounds of private sector investment to create and support up to 250,000 highly skilled green jobs and level up across the UK.
And that is very welcome, but building back better after covid cannot just apply to us here in the United Kingdom; there absolutely has to be a global approach. So is the President frustrated that the big emitters such as Australia, Japan, South Korea and Russia have only resubmitted their previous climate pledges, and worse, that Brazil has backtracked on its climate pledge? What is he doing to convince them that meeting their fair share is important so that we can achieve the 45% reduction in emissions to keep our climate change within 1.5° C?
I would just say to the hon. Member that when the UK took on the COP26 presidency, less than 30% of the global economy was covered by a net zero target; that is now 70%. All the G7 countries have committed to 2030 NDCs that are aligned with net zero by 2050. Of course, he is right that we want all countries, particularly the big emitters, to come forward with ambitious emissions reduction targets.
The credibility of the COP presidency rests on demonstrable climate change action at home. However, the decision by the Government back in 2015 to scrap the Labour Government’s zero carbon homes legislation has meant that we have lost 1 million zero carbon homes in the past five years. It is a simple question: why do this Government seem to want to allow non-zero carbon homes to continue to be built?
I would point out to the hon. Member that the UK is the country in the G20 that has decarbonised its economy fastest since the year 2000. He will know that the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is working on a heat and housing decarbonisation strategy as well. That will come forward, and of course we will set out our net zero strategy ahead of COP26.
Engagement with North African Partners
What steps he has taken to engage with international partners in north Africa on preparations for COP26. [R] (900912)
First, can I thank my hon. Friend for the work that he does as a trade envoy in north Africa? Of course, I and fellow Ministers speak to—and, indeed, our whole diplomatic network speaks to and engages with—Governments across the world, including in north Africa. In recent months, I have spoken to Ministers in a range of countries, including Morocco, Sudan and Egypt, which I visited in February.
What plans are there to sustain engagement in this region in the forthcoming months?
We are working proactively with countries in the region through our COP26 energy transition council. We co-chair the adaptation action coalition with Egypt and we will continue to engage in north Africa, one of the regions most vulnerable to climate change.
Engagement with Sustainability Groups
What steps he is taking to engage with sustainability groups ahead of COP26. (900913)
I call the Vice-President of COP26.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Sustainability groups and wider civil society are essential partners to the UK presidency with their links to communities most impacted by climate change. That is why we have established the COP26 civil society and youth advisory council, allowing a regular dialogue with those groups as we plan for COP26, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has also launched this week the “Plant for our Planet” campaign to encourage all our constituents, and perhaps my hon. Friend, to think about the natural world and how we can live and work better within it.
May I ask the President, and indeed the Vice-President, of COP26 to engage with my constituents and the sustainability groups we have? It is incredibly welcome to hear the steps they are already taking, but we would really like to see a Devonian perspective on COP26 this year.
Well managed agriculture will be a critical contributor to our planet’s climate solutions, and the UK wishes to use its COP26 presidency to drive the global transition to sustainable agriculture and land use. We are committed to using our presidency platform to amplify local climate action, so I am delighted to hear about the activity being led in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and COP unit officials would be very happy to follow up and meet with them.
Devon is not the only area that is leading the way in developing community action plans, and indeed South Shropshire Climate Action has produced the first constituency-wide action plan, which I will be delighted to present both to the President and the Vice-President following this session. Will there be scope for such community groups that are leading the way in finding practical means for communities to help get to net zero to attend COP26 in Glasgow in order to spread this great practice?
We are really fortunate in the UK to have, as my right hon. Friend has demonstrated, a passionate civil society that is among the world leaders in climate action. The UK launched the domestic “Together for Our Planet” campaign to celebrate climate initiatives across the UK and to inspire the public—and clearly they are already inspired—to be more engaged in climate action in the run-up to COP26. So I would be delighted to receive further information on climate action from Ludlow, as well as any other constituency that wishes to submit it, because to be able to share that is absolutely what COP26 is all about.
Discussions with Welsh Government
What recent discussions he has had with the Welsh Government in preparation for COP26. (900914)
We are working with the Welsh Government and indeed the other devolved Administrations to ensure an inclusive and ambitious summit for the whole of the UK. I have spoken with Welsh Government Ministers at the COP26 devolved Administration ministerial group, which I chair, and I look forward to speaking to Julie James, the Welsh Government’s new Minister for Climate Change, at the group’s next meeting, which is taking place tomorrow.
Offshore energy generation will have a vital role to play in achieving Wales’s energy, economic, decarbonisation and wellbeing goals, yet we are operating at the moment with one hand tied behind our back, because the Crown Estate has sole responsibility for allowing development on the seabed. What discussions has the right hon. Gentleman had with the Welsh Government about devolving the Crown estates in Wales to Wales, as is the case for Scotland, as part of the British Government’s COP26 legacy?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I do of course talk to the devolved Administrations, but the role of the COP presidency is to ensure that we get consensus across 197 parties. However, my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan)—the Vice-President, as she is now styled—is also the Energy Minister and the adaptation champion, and she will be very happy to discuss these matters with him.
What progress the Government has made on raising international ambition to cut methane emissions in preparation for COP26. (900916)
As incoming COP President, the UK is committed to reducing all greenhouse gas emissions and is encouraging all countries to raise their climate ambition in nationally determined contributions and long-term strategies ahead of COP26. The UK announced its NDC last December; it is an all-economy target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 68% on 1990 levels by 2030, and the UK’s sixth carbon budget will require UK greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced by 78% by 2035. The emissions scope of these targets does include methane.
A lot of the debate and discussion focuses on reducing the carbon footprint. I am glad that the Minister includes methane; as she will know, over the course of 20 years, 1 tonne of methane will warm the atmosphere about 86 times more than 1 tonne of carbon. Given that the UN and Climate & Clean Air Coalition report demonstrates that we can nearly halve those emissions by 2030 by using existing technology, will my right hon. Friend assure the House that the Government will make securing commitments to reductions in methane a priority at the upcoming COP?
In the UK, we are tackling methane emissions domestically by supporting the agriculture sector to reduce its emissions further through the agricultural transition plan. We have made good progress already to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, in our domestic agriculture sector. We produce a litre of milk with 17% less greenhouse gas emissions and a kilogram of pork with 40% less greenhouse gas emissions than in 1990. In our role as COP president, the UK has established a new international dialogue to raise international ambition on the transition to sustainable agriculture, with around 20 countries currently participating.
What steps he is taking to raise international ambition to increase recycling ahead of COP26. (900917)
The Government are introducing legislation to transform our environment, including measures to improve how we manage our resources and waste, through the Environment Bill. We continue to work with other countries to move towards a resource-efficient and circular economy.
I am grateful for the Vice-President of COP26’s answer. I have had many conversations with passionate young people from schools around my patch— St Margaret’s School, St Martin’s School and South Charnwood School—who are dedicated to recycling. They wanted me to ask: will the Government consider asking for international targets on recycling rates to drive up recycling across the globe?
As in my hon. Friend’s constituency, the schoolchildren in my own constituency are passionate and regularly communicate with me about reducing waste and reusing materials. The Government’s view is that taking action is the best way to drive progress, harnessing that consumer power to drive changes in packaging use in the goods that we all buy. Our children are the ones who are going to help all us parents across the country to drive that. Domestically, we are introducing the extended producer responsibility scheme to ensure that producers cover the full net cost recovery for packaging waste, and a deposit return scheme to increase the recycling of drinks containers. That will help us achieve a 65% recycling rate by 2035.
What steps he is taking through COP26 to help ensure that increased biodiversity is part of the international strategy to combat climate change. (900921)
Through the COP26 nature campaign, we are driving action to protect and restore forests and critical ecosystems, as well as helping to catalyse a sustainable transition of the agriculture sector and food systems through our forest, agriculture and commodity trade dialogues.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for what he is doing. May I ask him to step up his work on ensuring that protecting ecosystems is part of the agreement that we hope will be reached at COP? I know that we have the summit in China, but the protection of habitats and ecosystems around the world is such an important part of dealing with climate change that I hope it will be part of the deal in the autumn. May I also ask him to put some pressure on the Brazilian Government over the measures that appear to be happening there that could accelerate, rather than reduce, the loss of the Amazon rainforest?
My right hon. Friend raises a very important point. He will know that the UK co-led the development of the leaders’ pledge for nature, which almost 90 leaders around the world have endorsed, committing to global action to protect nature. Of course, we are campaigning for strong biodiversity targets to be set at the biodiversity COP in Kunming this October. As he would expect, I am in contact with the Brazilian Government as well.
Bioeconomy: Research and Innovation
What steps he is taking to promote investment in research and innovation in the bioeconomy ahead of COP26. (900922)
We are exploring opportunities for strengthened international collaboration on innovation focused on the bioeconomy through Mission Innovation, a global initiative to enable affordable clean energy and achieve the goals of the Paris agreement. Leveraging growth of the bioeconomy will support clean growth across multiple sectors and contribute towards achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The climate crisis is turbocharged, as the trajectory of mitigation ever deviates from planet-saving targets while the Government move at a glacial pace to establish a climate economy. BioYorkshire will not only create 4,000 new jobs and upskill 25,000 people but lay the foundations for world-beating research in biosciences here in York and Yorkshire, offsetting carbon and waste. All we ask is for the Government to bring forward the funding already committed ahead of COP26. Will the Minister agree to do that and meet me to discuss the project and the importance of BioYorkshire?
I am always happy to meet new, interesting and innovative projects, and I am very happy to commit to doing that. We are absolutely leading the way on this. Mission Innovation is an extraordinary organisation, driving and shining a light on some of the most forward-thinking processes. One key challenge in helping developing countries move to clean growth is ensuring that the technologies that UK businesses and our scientists invent and take to market can be used in those developing countries.
UK Negotiating Team: Diversity and Inclusion
What steps he has taken to champion diversity and inclusivity in the UK’s COP26 negotiating team. (900923)
The UK is committed to championing diversity and inclusion throughout our COP26 presidency. More than 45% of the senior management team in the COP26 unit are women, including our chief operating officer and communications director, and around half the COP26 negotiating team are women.
Later this year, I am hosting the British South Asian youth summit, focusing on COP26. Will the Minister meet our youth champions to hear the perspective of young people living in some of the areas of the world that are most vulnerable to climate change?
As I said in response to an earlier question, we have the civil society and youth advisory group, co-chaired by two young climate activists, one from the global south and one from the global north, and on every visit that I do, I meet youth activists. Of course, I am very happy to look at the event that the hon. Gentleman is talking about and, if my diary permits, I will certainly come to it.
What his policy objectives are for COP26. (900924)
Our overarching objective is to keep within reach the target of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 °C. To do that, we are asking countries to set out ambitious emissions reduction commitments, come forward with plans to protect communities and nature, mobilise finance and reach agreement on the outstanding elements of the Paris rulebook.
Mr Speaker, you will remember when David Cameron was hugging huskies, and I thought it was a great idea to try to do something to save the planet, so I got rid of my polluting petrol car, bought a biofuel car and then discovered that I was destroying the rainforest. I knew what to do next: get carbon dioxide down and buy a diesel car; now I know that when I drive along the street I am poisoning people. Could the President of COP26 please give me some advice? Before I buy an electric car, will he assure me that the mining of cobalt and lithium is not killing people in the mines, or would it just be easier for me to buy a horse?
That would certainly be sustainable. I am really pleased to hear that my hon. Friend is indeed a climate activist at heart; it is a revelation for all of us. It is great that he has made a decision to purchase an electric vehicle. I can tell him that he will not be disappointed. Plug-in grants are available and he knows that the Government are also backing the sector with almost £3 billion-worth of support.
As the President of COP26 knows, the International Energy Agency latest world energy outlook makes it clear that a net zero pathway for global energy requires that there be no new fossil fuel supply beyond projects already committed to as of this year. That means not just coal, but oil and gas. The report reinforces the obvious need to secure agreement on a global framework for a managed and fair phase-out of fossil fuels. Will the President therefore tell the House whether he accepts the IEA’s conclusion and, if so, whether ending all new fossil fuel supply from next year will be incorporated into the objectives of the UK’s presidency of COP26?
I actually commissioned that report and I am very pleased that it is so substantive. The hon. Gentleman is right: we need to make sure that we help all countries with a clean energy transition, and that is what we are doing through the work of the COP26 Energy Transition Council.
If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. (900950)
Two weeks ago, I chaired the G7 Climate and Environment Ministers track with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. At that meeting, the G7 nations agreed overwhelmingly to decarbonise their power systems in the 2030s, consistent with their 2030 nationally determined contributions and net zero commitments. In addition, they committed to take concrete steps to end support for international coal power generation by the end of 2021. This is a critical step in consigning coal power to history and accelerating the international transition to clean energy.
Of course we welcome plans for a cleaner, greener Britain, but can my right hon. Friend reassure my hard-working Harlow residents that the Government’s environmental measures will not mean a more expensive Britain, hitting the low-paid with extra costs and increasing the cost of living for ordinary folk?
The Government are committed to getting the transition to net zero right for all consumers. We are committed to driving savings and making our homes better insulated with more energy-efficient measures. My right hon. Friend will know that through the energy company obligation and the expanded warm home discount, we will provide at least £4.7 billion of extra support to low-income and vulnerable households between 2022 and 2026.
For a successful COP26, we have a particular responsibility as hosts to build trust with developing countries. The Government’s decision to cut aid spending—the only G7 country to do so—is therefore an appalling one, not just because it is wrong in principle, but because it is staggeringly self-defeating. The COP26 President knows that that decision makes a successful outcome at the conference of the parties harder, not easier, so may I invite him to add his voice to the powerful calls we heard yesterday, including from the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), to immediately restore Government aid spending to 0.7% of GDP?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the UK is doubling its international climate finance commitment to support developing countries; I can tell him that that has been very much welcomed around the world. With regard to the overall official development assistance spend, this is a temporary measure, as he knows. As the economic situation improves, I hope that it will be possible to restore the 0.7% target at the earliest opportunity.
The problem is that cutting aid spending severely undermines the ability of developing countries to tackle the challenges of climate poverty and public health. The COP26 President knows that: it is what developing countries are telling him in the negotiations. We need vulnerable countries to be calling for more ambition from big emitters such as China, but they will be much more reticent in doing so when they do not feel that we can be trusted.
Totemic on the issue of trust is the promise made at Copenhagen for $100 billion of public and private finance for developing countries. More than a decade on, it still has not been delivered. It is our job as hosts to deliver on that promise. Can the COP26 President therefore tell us whether the $100 billion will finally be delivered this weekend at the G7 meeting?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the $100 billion is a totemic figure. We are doing everything we can to ensure that we are able to deliver it by COP26. I can assure him that I am having very frank discussions with donor countries—with developed countries —to ensure that they deliver on that commitment made in 2009.
Does the COP presidency share my concern at the reputational hit that the UK will take in the event that it continues to approve old-style carbon-belching waste incinerators such as the one proposed at Westbury in my constituency? (900953)
All energy-from-waste plants in England are regulated by the Environment Agency and must comply with the strict emissions limits set in legislation. I am aware that Northacre Renewable Energy Ltd has applied for an environmental permit from the Environment Agency to operate an incinerator in Westbury, Wiltshire, and the Environment Agency is considering responses to the public consultation.
Some 11% of Scottish renewable generation comes from small projects such as Harlaw Hydro in my constituency. Ahead of COP26, will the Government introduce a replacement for the feed-in tariff that is better placed to encourage similar new projects than the smart export guarantee scheme? (900951)
We will be launching a new contract for difference auction at the end of this year. The opportunity for a number of smaller sources of energy storage will be available.
Will the COP26 President detail what steps he has taken to engage with the G7 ahead of COP26? (900955)
May I commend my hon. Friend for all the work that he is doing in Dudley on supporting the local economy and green jobs? As I set out earlier, I co-chaired the G7 climate and environment Ministers meeting, which came forward with some ambitious commitments.
The world is not currently on track to meet our Paris targets, is it? The current pledges only add up to less than 10% of emissions; we need 45% to meet the target. In the last parliamentary Session, 109 MPs signed the climate and ecological emergency Bill. When it is reintroduced, will the Government give time to debate it so that, as we did with the Climate Change Act 2008, we can lead the world on legislation, not just follow? (900952)
I would recommend that the hon. Gentleman talks to the Leader of the House on the matter of the timetabling of the debates and other events in the House. I would also say to him that we are working very hard and pressing all the big emitters to ensure that they come forward with the ambition that is required to be able to halve emissions by 2030.
I am currently doing a lot of work with people in my constituency on the climate agenda in preparation for the COP summit, and local schoolchildren and young people are particularly interested. One child in particular has asked me raise this question with the President of COP:“To beat climate change we’ve got to look at it as one whole world. Surely this means giving more not less help to poorer countries to help them make the changes needed to save our planet?” (900960)
The right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) raised this issue with me, and I have set out the position on overseas aid. In terms of our schools, we are engaging, and I hope I will shortly be able to send out a pack that will encourage young people in our schools to get even more involved in COP26.