Does this man hold our future in his hands?
Ok, that might be a slight exaggeration. But as the newly appointed President for the 2020 United Nations Climate Change Conference (or COP26 as it is more commonly known), set to take place from 9 to 20 November in Glasgow, Alok Sharma will have a huge influence on the future of international cooperation on climate change.
Mr Sharma was appointed on 13 February and welcomed the role, saying:
“It is a great honour to take on the role of COP26 President. I have started working with my new team ahead of the summit in Glasgow this November, where we aim to speed up the global journey to net zero carbon. We will be building on efforts to urge all countries to bring forward ambitious plans to curb their emissions ahead of the event itself.”
Whether Mr Sharma and the UK government can provide the necessary leadership to reach a successful outcome is a major question mark. A member of Boris Johnson’s Cabinet as Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Mr Sharma appears to have limited experience in environmental affairs, with his background prior to entering politics in accountancy and banking.
His appointment comes off the back of the previous COP26 President’s sacking, a messy affair which culminated in Claire O’Neill writing to the Prime Minister telling him that preparations for the conference were “miles off track” and following that up by telling BBC Radio 4 that Boris Johnson “doesn’t really get” climate change.
Mr Johnson’s own statements on climate change are indeed mixed. In 2015, when December temperatures were unseasonably warm, he dismissed any link to climate change in his Daily Telegraph column, claiming global leaders were driven by a “primitive fear...and that fear - as far as I understand the science - is equally without foundation” and perhaps over-illustratively, “there may be many reasons why I was sweating at ping-pong - but they don’t include global warming”.
Nevertheless, at the COP26 launch on 4 February the Prime Minister was bang on message. Speaking at London’s Science Museum he linked “restoring the balance between humanity and nature” with solving climate change and called on all nations to announce credible plans to reach net zero emissions, noting that “we’ve poured so much CO2 into the atmosphere collectively that our entire planet is swaddled in a great tea cosy of the stuff”. He also reflected on the UK’s responsibility to lead on carbon emissions reductions having been the first country to industrialise. That said, could you conceivably say anything else sat next to Sir David Attenborough?
The 2020 version of Boris Johnson is right - progress at COP26 in Glasgow is critical to us having any chance of keeping climate change to a level we might be able to deal with. Keep an eye out for my next post when I’ll tell you why!