Alok Sharma: What we know about the COP26 President’s views on climate change
In an unexpected announcement, Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom has been replaced by International Development Secretary Alok Sharma, who has also been named as COP26 President. Here, edie examines Sharma's track record on climate legislation to date.
In what spiralled into a massive cabinet overhaul, Alok Sharma has been confirmed as the replacement for Andrea Leadsom as Business Secretary at BEIS, while Theresa Villiers is set to be replaced as Environment Minister by George Eustice. To top the reshuffle off, Sajid Javid has resigned as Chancellor and has been replaced by Rishi Sunak, who steps up from the role of Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Between 2015 and 2017, Sunak was a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee.
Sharma was appointed Secretary of State for International Development on 24 July 2019. The Reading West MP served as Housing Minister between 2017 and 2018, and as Employment Minister from 2018 to 2019.
In an unexpected announcement, Sharma has also been named as COP26 minister, despite the likes of Michael Gove and Zac Goldsmith being heavily linked with the position. The Financial Times and Sky News are amongst those reporting that “minister” is interchangeable with “president”, which was previously held by Claire O’Neill. As such, Sharma will oversee the delivery of the climate conference in Glasgow later this year.
Here edie explores Sharma’s views on climate change and whether he can step up to the crucial task of engaging global leaders on the need to accelerate climate action towards net-zero emissions at the climate conference in Glasgow later this year.
On COP negotiations
Clair O’Neill – formerly Perry – was announced as president of COP26 in June 2019 and was then removed from the position in February 2020. Reports suggest that the UK Government was concerned that O’Neill lacked understanding of the intricacies of leading global negotiations.
Some view expertise in foreign affairs as arguably a more valuable skill in steering the global climate conference, especially as the science and the warnings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) IPPC report has outlined the necessity of decarbonisation.
Sharma was part of the UK delegation that attended the UN Climate Summit last year, where he spoke to the General Assembly, and where Greta Thunberg also addressed the audience of world leaders.
Sharma’s previous workings with finance at DFID will be a big boost for the COP negotiations, especially as Boris Johnson has appointed the departing Governor for the Bank of England Mark Carney as his Finance Advisor for the COP26 climate summit. Unlocking the necessary finance to deliver a global decarbonisation roadmap has often led to conversations of “who pays” and these two appointments could suggest that finance will be a key negotiation at the Summit.
Alok is a very good person who I am sure will get to grips quickly with the challenge and I will do anything I can to make @cop26 a success.
— Claire O’Neill (@copwatch26) February 13, 2020
On combatting climate change abroad
Many green groups are calling on the UK to use the COP26 conference in Glasgow to encourage other countries to push for net-zero emissions targets and unlock the finance required to do so.
Sharma’s work on climate mitigation and adaptation in developing countries will give him positive experiences to lean on in these negotiations when COP26 arrives.
He is firmly of the belief that “climate change is one of the greatest challenges the world is facing” and used his role in DFID to launch a UK aid package in September 2019 aimed at protecting around a billion people in developing nations from natural disasters and extreme weather events driven by climate change.
In early 2019, Sharma launched a new International Development Infrastructure Commission, with the ambition to rapidly speed up investment into sustainable infrastructure across the globe.
The Commission will attempt to create a ripple effect that will plug a $2.5trn funding gap required annually to end poverty in developing countries.
Sharma has previously called on the World Bank to funnel more investment to tackle climate change in developing countries and has pushed for an “anti-poverty approach” in regards to the UK’s contribution to the Bank’s concessional loan facility.
At a global level, Sharma has focused heavily on African investment. Last month, he launched Kenya’s first green bond, heralding it a “landmark moment” that would build the relationship between Kenya and the UK.
As International Development Secretary, Sharma was at the UK-Africa summit and announced that the UK will partner with Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya and Uganda to design a new facility to support finance to a range of “environmentally-friendly” infrastructure projects. Around £2bn in energy deals were agreed at the Summit, but it has been revealed that 90% were for fossil fuels.
The UK is one of the few countries to meet UN targets for spending 0.7% of national income on overseas development assistance, although the UK is still funding fossil fuel projects in these nations.
On climate policy votes
In various speeches, Sharma has focused on the preservation of biodiversity and reforestation and mobilising private sector investment as ways to combat climate change. However, he has predominantly voted against climate change legislation. In 2016, He voted against requiring a strategy for carbon capture and storage for the energy industry. In 2019, he voted against the Green Industrial Revolution “Programme for the Many”.
TheyWorkForYou, an online hub that rates MPs based on voting records across categories, claimed that Sharma “generally voted against measures to prevent climate change”. In fact, The Guardian’s Polluters project, which scores MPs on a range of key votes found that he only voted positively on two out of 13 climate-related votes.
Born in India and elected as the MP for Reading West in 2010, Sharma has seemingly changed his stance on the controversial expansion of Heathrow Airport.
Having originally claimed that “Heathrow would inflict huge damage to the environment and to the quality of life of millions of people”, he has since welcomed the expansion, claiming that it would help to “drive the nation’s economic powerhouse”.