20 October 2021
Questions to the President of COP26

Alok Sharma, President of COP26, responds to MPs’ questions.

COP26: Policy Objectives

Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con)

1. What his policy objectives are for COP26. (903706)

Rob Butler (Aylesbury) (Con)

10. What his policy objectives are for COP26. (903716)

The COP26 President (Alok Sharma)

Our overarching objective of COP26 is to keep within reach the goal of limiting average global temperature rises to 1.5 °C. To achieve that, we have been asking countries to set out ambitious emissions reduction commitments and to come forward with adaptation plans, and asking developed countries to deliver on their climate finance promises and for us collectively to reach agreement on the outstanding elements of the Paris rulebook.

Julian Sturdy 

Given the Government’s recent wise decision to recognise that environment-saving gene-editing technology should be recognised differently from GM—genetic modification—will Ministers use COP26 to champion this and other cutting-edge science and technologies that provide some of the best solutions to the problems of sustainability and climate change?

Alok Sharma 

My hon. Friend raises an important point. Science and innovation are crucial to tackling climate change and delivering green growth. Innovation will be discussed at the world leaders’ summit at COP26. On 9 November, we will provide a particular focus on discussing and indeed showcasing science and innovation’s role in tackling climate change.

Rob Butler 

Along with the national and global policy objectives of COP26, many local voluntary organisations are already raising awareness of the impact of climate change, including Climate Action Wendover, in my constituency. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the work that such organisations do is important in helping people to understand that the only way to reach net zero is by everyone changing the way they behave, at home, at work and in their local community?

Alok Sharma 

I congratulate my hon. Friend and Climate Action Wendover on all their work in encouraging climate action from local residents and businesses. Local communities across the country are playing their part in tackling climate change, and the cities, regions and built environment day at COP26 will provide a focus on local community action.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)

The Minister will know that there is widespread concern about a lack of clarity, as we get so close to COP26, as to what will actually be happening at the summit and what the priorities will be. What discussions has he had with the small island developing states to make sure that their concerns are fully represented, that they have a voice at COP26 and that we come away from it with something that really helps them to meet the challenges they face?

Alok Sharma 

The hon. Lady raises an incredibly important point. I have a regular dialogue with representatives of the small island developing states. I have been clear that one thing we want to do through this presidency is champion them and the developing countries that are at the frontline of climate change.

Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)

It is good to hear that the COP President is interested in the challenges of those developing countries. Climate change’s most severe impacts fall heaviest on those developing countries that had least to do with causing it, and many consequences of climate change are already locked in, regardless of mitigation efforts. Given that, it is vital that COP26 includes an agreement on loss and damage compensation. Are the Government aiming for an equitable loss and damage agreement that compensates developing nations and recognises the disproportionate role of developed nations in causing that loss and damage?

Alok Sharma 

Loss and damage is an issue that Ministers have debated at both the London ministerial meeting that I hosted and the pre-COP in Milan. Clearly, what comes forward at COP will be a consensus agreement, but I can tell the hon. Lady that we are determined to make sure that the Santiago Network is operationalised, and of course we will see that further discussions take place on this issue.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con)

Given that more than a quarter of the increase in carbon emissions since 2000 has come from China, are we expecting a strong and prominent Chinese delegation at COP26?

Alok Sharma 

There will be a delegation coming from China. As my hon. Friend may know, I was there in September, when I had constructive discussions. China, along with every other country, needs to come forward with ambitious plans to cut emissions by 2030 before COP26.


Progress on Limiting Global Heating

Anna McMorrin (Cardiff North) (Lab)

2. What recent assessment he has made of progress on limiting (a) global heating to below 2 °C and (b) heating to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels ahead of COP26. (903708)

The COP26 President (Alok Sharma)

The commitments by countries at Paris in 2015 bent the curve of global warming to below 2 °C. The International Energy Agency, in a report published last week, has concluded that if countries deliver on all their recent commitments, we are on course for around 2 °C. In order to keep 1.5 °C within reach, all countries, particularly the G20 nations, need to submit ambitious 2030 emission reduction targets and of course commit to net zero by the middle of the century.

Anna McMorrin 

The Minister talks of ambitious plans, but the net zero road map published by the Government yesterday is weak on land and agriculture, and 20% of the UK’s annual emissions come from natural resources. No plan can claim to build back greener unless we do everything in our power to achieve the 2° target or, indeed, the 1.5° goal. Peatlands are the biggest carbon store and continue to be burned. The Government’s ban includes only a third of upland peatland, allowing the rest to burn, so what are they doing to shut down the loophole that they created?

Alok Sharma 

The net zero strategy is a coherent and comprehensive plan that has been welcomed by many people and by business. It is about emissions coming down and the creation of jobs. The hon. Lady will know that we have already published a peat strategy, which I would be happy to share with her.

Paul Howell (Sedgefield) (Con)

Does the COP26 President agree with me and the all-party parliamentary group for “left behind” neighbourhoods that sometimes the way to engage people is with things that matter to them, such as the cost of heating their house, as opposed to changing the green agenda every time? If we go for different agendas for people, we can get a lot more acceptance and buy-in.

Alok Sharma 

My hon. Friend is a champion for his Sedgefield constituency and is right to point out that we can bring about change in a number of ways, thereby not only reducing the cost of bills but helping to cut emissions. There is a role for us all to play.

Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab)

With 10 days to go before COP, much is riding on the shoulders of the COP26 President and we wish him well, but to deliver the 1.5° target we have to cut emissions by 28 billion tonnes by 2030—a halving of global emissions. So far, the pledges made for Glasgow amount to 4 billion tonnes at most, so we are not yet where we want to be. Does the COP26 President agree that we need to be honest about the maths? If he does, what is his assessment of how much of the gap we can close at Glasgow to keep 1.5° alive?

Alok Sharma 

The right hon. Gentleman and I agree that we have to ensure that we close the gap and halve emissions on the 2010 baseline by 2030. As I said in answer to an earlier question, so long as the commitments that have been made are followed through on, we are heading towards the 2° target, but clearly we need the G20 to come forward with its emissions reduction targets, and we will then need a consensus view on how we reach agreement for the next few years.

Edward Miliband 

May I suggest to the COP26 President that the rest of the UK Government could make a difference, even in these final days, by not undermining his work? The Secretary of State for International Trade should not be giving big emitters a free pass by doing a deal with Australia that allows them to drop their temperature commitments; the Prime Minister should deliver on the promise made at the G7 to vaccinate the developing world by the end of 2022; and the Treasury should stop undermining the green transition at home and help to build the international coalition that we need by reversing the cut to overseas aid in the Budget. Does the COP26 President agree that acting on those suggestions would help him to deliver on his historic responsibility at the COP?

Alok Sharma 

The whole Government are committed to our net zero strategy, which was published yesterday. It is about creating 440,000 jobs by 2030 and getting another £90 billion of inward investment, some of which we saw coming through at the global investment summit yesterday. The whole Government are committed to ensuring that we have success at COP26. The very fact that the Secretary of State for International Trade is sat next to me on the Front Bench shows her commitment to COP and to her work on adaptation.


COP26: Community Engagement

David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale) (Con)

5. What recent steps he has taken to engage with communities in preparation for COP26. (903711)

Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con)

7. What steps he is taking to consult with (a) civil society and (b) youth groups in preparation for COP26. (903713)

The COP26 President (Alok Sharma)

I have met a range of society and youth groups in every country that I have visited in my COP role. Alongside that, I co-chaired the COP26 civil society and youth advisory council. Last month, I attended the Youth4Climate: Driving Ambition conference to hear at first hand almost 400 youth climate activists representing 186 countries.

David Mundell 

The big disappointment for me is the chaotic and shambolic way in which SNP-led Glasgow City Council has approached this major global event that is coming to Scotland. Can the President reassure me that, whatever the inadequacies of the council, it will not detract from the event or its ability in future to positively reflect on communities in Glasgow and across Scotland?

Alok Sharma 

We have had a good working relationship with delivery partners across the piece and it is very important that that continues. Obviously, my right hon. Friend has highlighted a number of local issues. If he wants to get in touch with me, I would be very happy to see what we can do to try to solve the problems.

Andrew Jones 

Two weeks ago, I saw Harrogate High School, St Joseph’s primary school and Zero Carbon Harrogate promote their walk-to-school day. Talking to pupils, I found that their interest in environmental progress was very strong, so has my right hon. Friend shared the feedback on his consultations with other Government Departments to promote work such as sustainable transport both domestically and internationally?

Alok Sharma 

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and, of course, Harrogate High School and Zero Carbon Harrogate for promoting sustainable travel initiatives. He will know that the COP unit is working very closely with other Government Departments to try to support business on sustainable transport initiatives. I want to give him one example: the Zero Emission Vehicles Transition Council is working with Ministers representing leading car markets across the world to accelerate the move to electric vehicles.

Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)

As MP of the constituency where COP is taking place, I look forward to welcoming you all to Glasgow in the coming weeks. However, many businesses will be affected by COP and forced to close. They are finding it very difficult to get answers from the Cabinet Office on how much compensation they will be entitled to for the closure of their businesses. I would be grateful if the President could meet me to try to resolve some of these matters because businesses are very worried that they will lose out significantly as a result of COP coming to Glasgow.

Alok Sharma 

As the hon. Lady will know, I have written to local Members of Parliament to tell them that businesses within the secure perimeter will be compensated for any loss of revenues. Of course, the number of people coming means that this is also going to be an opportunity for businesses across Glasgow to benefit, but I would be very happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss the matter.


Nationally Determined Contribution Commitments

Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con)

9. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of nationally determined contribution commitments published in September 2021 ahead of COP26. (903715)

The COP26 President (Alok Sharma)

Overall, the NDCs that have been put forward are not adequate, because by 30 July 78 countries had still not published updated NDCs. However, the 113 updated NDCs that had been submitted would lead to a reduction in emissions of 12% by 2030. If we also take into account the subset of 70 countries with updated NDCs and net zero commitments through long-term strategies, those would lead to a 26% reduction in emissions.

Philip Dunne 

In the COP26 President’s discussions around nationally determined contributions, has he come across a single country other than the UK that has committed to count international aviation and maritime emissions in its net zero strategy?

Alok Sharma 

My right hon. Friend is right. This is just another example of the UK leading on climate ambition. We remain fully committed to global action to tackle international aviation and shipping emissions through the international processes at the International Civil Aviation Organisation and the International Maritime Organisation.


Topical Questions

Laura Trott (Sevenoaks) (Con)

T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. (903721)

The COP26 President (Alok Sharma)

When the UK took on the COP26 presidency, less than 30% of the global economy was covered by a net zero target; that figure is now 80%. Under the UK’s G7 presidency, for the first time every G7 country has committed to ambitious near-term emission targets aligned with net zero by 2050. However, to keep 1.5 °C within reach, every nation, particularly the biggest emitters, has to step forward in what needs to be the decade of ambition.

Laura Trott 

The Government are setting ambitious five-year carbon budgets and we have set out how we are going to meet those, but will the Minister consider setting interim targets to reassure my concerned constituents that we are on track?

Alok Sharma 

The net zero strategy has committed to provide a public update every year from 2022 on progress against the delivery pathway to net zero set out in the strategy, and this will include an update on progress against the targets and ambitions that have been set out.


Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con)

T2. Harrogate District Climate Change Coalition is staging its first climate action festival to coincide with COP26. It is full of events promoting ways that people can decarbonise their lives, with businesses, academics and community groups involved. Will the Minister join me in congratulating them on this excellent initiative and perhaps consider joining us for the second festival? (903722)

Alok Sharma 

There is no festival better than a climate action festival. I congratulate Harrogate District Climate Change Coalition, which has brilliantly demonstrated that tackling climate change is an all-of-society endeavour bringing together business, civil society and government.

Ms Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab)

T4. Is it the COP President’s view that if the world is to be set on a 1.5 °C pathway, states will need to report on an annual basis rather than waiting until 2025, the next five-year reset? (903724)

Alok Sharma 

That is part of the discussion that needs to take place, but it is also vital that we reach agreement on the transparency framework at COP26 so that we know that the commitments being made are actually delivered on.


Mrs Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con)

T7. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on fisheries, I have spoken to many fishermen who are small businesses in their own right. What conversations has my right hon. Friend had with those who fish about potential environmental agreements? (903728)

Alok Sharma 

Reaffirmed by our 25-year environmental plan and our fisheries White Paper, the Government are committed to sustainable fishing and the principle of maximum sustainable yield. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that we are also committed to helping industry to reduce the adverse impacts on the marine environment and to adapt to climate change.

Darren Jones (Bristol North West) (Lab)

Only 13 of the G20 nations have committed to net zero by law. Does the COP President expect all G20 nations to commit to net zero by law at COP26?

Alok Sharma 

I would like every country to step forward with a net zero target. When we started, it was 30% of the world economy; it is now 80%. Of course, we also need those nationally determined contributions to come forward before COP.