Alok Sharma: ‘Focus has not stopped’ on global climate action

The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Alok Sharma had stated that the UK remains focused on preparations for the delayed COP26 climate summit, claiming that nations can't treat the coronavirus pandemic and climate action as an "either-or" scenario.

Alok Sharma: ‘Focus has not stopped’ on global climate action

Sharma noted that his department was still pushing the climate agenda during the pandemic. Image:

Sharma, who was appointed Energy Secretary and COP26 President in February, reiterated the UK’s commitment to climate action and its net-zero target during a virtual BEIS committee meeting Thursday morning (23 April).

During the session, Sharma claimed that the UK was continuing “to have a dialogue” with the UN and relevant parties on setting a new date for the global climate conference, which has been delayed until 2021 as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. However, Sharma was adamant that climate change hadn’t fallen down the political agenda.

“The focus has not stopped,” Sharma said. “We are continuing the work on this issue and we want to be ambitious on this. Certain countries have set out their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and we want all countries to be ambitious at this level.

“We’re not taking the pressure off; we’re continuing to work with our partners on this agenda.”

According to the UN, the world is “way off-track” to deliver the aims of the Paris Agreement. Preliminary data for 2019 suggests that greenhouse gas emissions increased globally in 2019 and carbon emissions from fossil fuels grew by more than 0.5% last year. COP26 is viewed as a vital summit to negotiate for more ambitious and accelerated decarbonisation efforts that are aligned with the 1.5C pathway of the Paris Agreement.

A handful of nations, namely Chile and some smaller island states, have updated NDCs ahead of the COP26 conference. The UK will be required to update its NDC, having originally submitted one as part of the EU and since setting the net-zero emissions goal for 2050. It could be that the Sixth Carbon Budget – advice on which is set to be published in December – could form the UK’s new intermittent contribution to the global agreement.

Sharma noted that his department was still pushing the climate agenda during the pandemic. Last month, he took part in the first global meeting for The Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI). More recently, Sharma took part in the virtual Placencia Ambition Forum which, which invites small island nations that are most vulnerable to climate change to discuss global climate ambitions. Later on this month, Sharma will also appear at a virtual Petersberg Climate Dialogue event.

Sharma claimed that while a new date for COP26 was yet to be set, when the date is announced the UK is aiming to create a “drumbeat of action” towards accelerated ambitions on climate change.

The BEIS minister did note that the immediate focus on Covid-19 mitigation was understandable, but that nations shouldn’t view the virus outbreak as an “either-or” situation that sees climate action shelved. Instead, he echoed the growing calls for a green recovery stimulus that led to a growth in green jobs.

To mark Earth Day (22 April) Sharma penned a joint op-ed in The Times alongside Italian Environment Minister Sergio Costa outlining the UK and Italy’s focus on COP26 and the Pre-COP and Youth4Climate events which are being held in Italy next year.

The two ministers call the time period up to the unannounced COP26 date as “vital”, claiming that a response to Covid-19 should focus on “international collaboration and science-led thinking”.

Matt Mace

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