Foreword

Alok Sharma – COP President Designate

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought devastation to millions around the world, disrupting many parts of the global economy. Governments, including our own, have stepped up to protect livelihoods. But climate change has not taken time off, and it ultimately threatens life on earth. At COP26 in November, we must take the historic opportunity to tackle climate change – to build back better, and greener from the pandemic. 

To keep the temperature of the planet under control – limiting its increase to 1.5 degrees – scientists tell us that by 2050, we should not be producing more carbon than we take out of the atmosphere. This is what reaching ‘net zero’ means.

The journey is already underway. Despite the pandemic, the direction of travel is changing. Around 70% of the world economy is now covered by net zero targets, up from less than 30% when the UK took on the Presidency of COP26. The world is moving towards a low-carbon future. Clean energy, like wind and solar, is now the cheapest source of electricity in most countries; many of the world’s car makers are committing to make only electric and hybrid models; countries around the world are undertaking important work to protect and restore nature; cities, states and regions across the world are also committing to reduce emissions to zero.

The country we all call home, the UK, is leading the way – over the last 30 years British governments have grown our economy by 75%, giving people good, well paid jobs, while cutting carbon emissions by 43%. That demonstrates that green growth is possible. In 2012, 40% of our electricity came from coal. That figure is now less than 2%. That shows that change is possible as we have developed the biggest offshore wind sector in the world. 

Internationally we are also seeing progress. Together with the United Nations the UK hosted the Climate Ambition Summit which brought together 75 leaders from around the world. It was a major stride forward, with new commitments on climate action announced by every leader who joined. It’s an important indicator that we are all serious about getting carbon emissions down now. That’s why in the coming months to COP26 in November will see the UK push others not to flinch from the big policy decisions: ending coal power, phasing out polluting vehicles, tackling unsustainable agriculture and supporting developing countries with climate finance.

Unfortunately reducing emissions is not enough. For many nations, the picture is far bleaker. I was born in India and for a time I served as the UK government’s Minister responsible for international aid – I have real sympathy with less developed countries that feel it’s for the developed industrial nations to help sort out a problem largely of their making. Indeed, one of the reasons we are determined to hold COP26 in Glasgow in person is to ensure the voices of developing countries are heard and acted on.

For those countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change – who are already seeing their homes disappear under water and their crops decimated by drought – COP26 simply can’t be another talking shop. In 2009, rich countries promised they would work towards raising $100bn each year by 2020 to help these countries tackle climate change. Donors have not yet achieved that target. As COP President Designate, I am determined that we will.

There is no pathway to net zero emissions that does not involve protecting and restoring nature on an unprecedented scale. If we are serious about holding temperature rises to 1.5 degrees and adapting to the impacts of climate change, we must change the way we look after our land and seas and how we grow our food. This is also important if we want to protect and restore the world’s biodiversity, upon which all life depends.

At COP26, we will work with partners to take forward action on protecting and restoring forests and critical ecosystems, and we will champion the transition towards sustainable, resilient and nature positive agriculture.

COP President Alok Sharma speaking against a backdrop of wind turbines

“COP26 needs to be decisive. Whether future generations look back at this time with admiration or despair, depends entirely on our ability to seize this moment. Let’s seize it together.”

Rt Hon Alok Sharma MP
COP President Designate