Climate change: World 'cannot wait' to step up action, says minister aiming to drive global cuts in emissions

·4 min read

The president of the COP26 Climate Conference, due to be hosted by the UK in November, has told Sky News there's "no desire" to postpone it.

Alok Sharma said: "We are planning that this is an event that takes place in November. It takes place in a physical form."

He said he wanted to "reassure" people who might have concerns about people coming to Glasgow from all over the world, and revealed organisers are drawing up "different COVID scenarios".

The COP president said he wants the Glasgow conference to be "the most inclusive ever" - but some of it is expected to be virtual.

The event has already been delayed a year because of the pandemic.

Mr Sharma, a serving cabinet minister, said: "Climate change hasn't taken time off and climate change hasn't abated, in fact, last year was the hottest year on record, the last decade was the hottest decade on record, and I do not sense any desire on the part of countries to delay any further.

"We are working very hard and planning on a physical event taking place in Glasgow in November, and actually what is really important is for all countries, the smaller countries or larger countries, to sit together on a level playing field at the same table, that is what I've been told when I'm speaking to governments, when I'm going around the world, and that is what we're working very hard to make sure happens."

COP events usually attract tens of thousands of delegates along with world leaders.

Mr Sharma said: "I completely get this point that people want to ensure this is a safe event and of course we'll demonstrate that to people as to how we're going to be doing that - in the fullness of time, we will set all of that out.

"But I want to give this reassurance to people that at the same time as we are planning for a physical event, uppermost in our minds is the health and the safety of people in Glasgow, and those who are attending, and that will always be something that we look at first."

Speaking ahead of a virtual summit of world leaders hosted by US President Joe Biden in Washington, Mr Sharma said the world "cannot wait" to make progress.

He said: "We need to make progress, and there's a range of events that are taking place. We've got the US Climate Summit coming up, we've got the presidency of the G7 in June. We will be looking at further milestones to make progress in terms of commitments from countries to bring down emissions, to provide more financing for the developing countries to cope with climate change."

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This week the government confirmed a target to reduce the UK's emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels.

Amid some criticism from environmentalists that the UK doesn't have the policies to match its ambition, Mr Sharma revealed the government will be setting out its net zero strategy ahead of COP26.

Describing the UK as a "poster child" for green growth, he said: "People will be able to see how we're going to make progress."

Mr Sharma has just returned from Japan - the latest country he's visited in his role as COP president - hoping to drive up global ambition on reducing emissions.

Asked if he felt the government's refusal to intervene and halt plans for a new coal mine in Cumbria undermined his authority, he said: "You talk about authority. People are impressed with the fact we have cut our emissions coming from coal from 40% to less than 2% in less than a decade. I mean that by any benchmark is pretty impressive.

"I'm going around the world talking to countries about ensuring that we are phasing out coal, I point to what the UK has managed to do, and as I said, you know, we all need to make progress on that and indeed other issues as well and I will continue to make the case for that, whether that is in the UK or indeed in any other part of the world, and I think you should get a pretty good indication of where I am on this issue."

Sky News broadcasts the first daily prime time news show dedicated to climate change.

Hosted by Anna Jones, The Daily Climate Show is following Sky News correspondents as they investigate how global warming is changing our landscape and how we all live our lives.

The show will also highlight solutions to the crisis and show how small changes can make a big difference.