With less than two months to go before the world descends on Scotland for a major UN climate change conference, the summit’s president warned “the window is closing” on global targets.
Alok Sharma MP, who is president-designate of COP26, appeared before MSPs at Holyrood, where he was questioned on the challenge ahead – and put on the spot over attitudes to devolution and his own jet-setting job.
He set out what action needs to be taken at the conference, not just in Scotland, but across the whole world, warning it could be the “last best chance” to tackle the climate emergency.
What are the priorities for COP26?
Mr Sharma said an agreement was made in Paris in 2015 to keep global temperature rises below two degrees, aiming for 1.5.
“The window is closing on that target, but there is still room,” he said.
“So the message I am taking to every country is to commit to net zero by 2050.”
#UNGA is an opportunity for developed countries to set out more finance commitments towards the $100bn/year goal
— Alok Sharma (@AlokSharma_RDG) September 15, 2021
He warned there must be action to deal with climate change that is already happening.
“Even if global warming stopped tomorrow the effects of what is happening already will reverberate for a long time, so countries need to prepare for that,” he said.
“We are also asking developed countries to deliver on a promise of $100 billion a year in funds to support developing countries every year from 2020 to 2025.
“We are not there yet, and clearly we need to do more.
“And the final piece of the puzzle is closing off the remaining items from Paris which have still not been resolved.”
COP26 is a UK event, says Sharma
Mr Sharma was also keen to emphasise the summit, which runs from October 31 until November 12. will be a UK event rather than a Scottish event – despite it being held in Glasgow.
Earlier this month it was revealed Number 10 was plotting to cut First Minister Nicola Sturgeon out of COP26 to prevent the summit becoming an “advert” for independence.
Leaked WhatsApp messages said all public statements from the UK Government about the summit should focus on Glasgow as a city in the UK rather than in Scotland, and for any mentions of Scotland to include a reference to its place within the UK, and to include references to Wales and Northern Ireland.
This message was demonstrated at the Holyrood committee session when Mr Sharma was asked to described what Scotland and the first minister’s roles will be at the conference.
He said: “We have been clear on this from the start – we want to showcase what the UK is doing.”
He added: “We have a devolved administrations group which brings together ministers from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
“We will set out in more detail on how to involve the devolved administrations of the UK and how to showcase the UK’s work across the devolved nations.”
He continued: “I want to see this as a whole UK COP26, and something we can all collectively be proud of.
“Welcoming the world to Glasgow is an opportunity to showcase what the UK has to offer.”
Worries over oil and gas jobs
Scotland’s political parties have been at loggerheads over how to smooth the shift away from oil and gas in a way that protects jobs – know as a “just transition”.
The Scottish Conservatives warn 100,000 jobs in the oil and gas industry in the north east are currently in danger, and there have been previous fears of places such as Aberdeen simply being abandoned.
The SNP and the Scottish Greens vowed to make sure oil and gas workers are well trained to make the change to renewables so they are not left behind in the transition to green energy.
Mr Sharma said: “The issue of a just transition is something every country is facing.
“Not just from a UK perspective but internationally, if we are to deliver green growth it has to be in a manner that those in sectors where jobs are reducing are able to get the skills and support to move into the new jobs.
“This is a critical issue every country faces right now.”
Sharma dodges Cambo question
Monica Lennon, from Scottish Labour, called for details on the UK approach to developing the Cambo oilfieid, off Shetland, and highlighted the number of international flights Mr Sharma has taken.
The UK Government is currently considering whether to press ahead with proposals to develop the 800million-barrel oilfield near Shetland.
A licence for this oilfield was granted back in 2001, but protesters say developing it now would be incompatible with the UK’s climate change targets and with Glasgow hosting COP26.
However. Mr Sharma dodged the question and passed Ms Lennon over to Lee McDonough, director general for net zero strategy and international at the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
Ms McDonough said: “The developer has now requested to move to the production phase which requires consent.
“In order for that to happen the next stage of the process is an environmental impact assessment and scrutiny by the Oil and Gas Authority, so no decision has been made yet.
“I can’t say any more about it, other than to reiterate the point that development for fields with existing licences are subject to rigorous assessment and scrutiny, and all future licences will only be granted if it is compatible with the climate.”
He said: “It is no exaggeration to say COP26 is the last best chance to get it right.
“In terms of my travel, face-to-face discussions have been incredibly vital to building personal relationships and fruitful discussion.”