Alok Sharma: Cop26 'just words on a page' unless promises delivered

Climate chief says the goal of keeping global temperature rise at 1.5°C will 'slip from our grasp' if pledges are not kept

Britain has been in talks with the UAE, which has been chosen to host Cop28, the annual UN climate conference, in 2023. Getty

The historic commitments made at the Cop26 conference on climate change will remain "just words on a page” unless countries deliver on promises they made, Britain’s climate chief has said in a hard-hitting speech.

In his first pronouncement since the Glasgow conference in November, Alok Sharma will urge the 200 countries that signed the Glasgow Climate Pact to make the changes required to ensure temperatures climbing above 1.5°C “do not slip from our grasp”.

The UK’s Cop26 president has also spoken to the UAE’s and Egypt’s climate representatives to help preparations for their climate conferences over the coming two years.

“There is no doubt that the commitments we secured at Cop26 were historic,” Mr Sharma said in his speech at the Chatham House think tank in London on Monday.

“Yet at the moment they are just words on a page and unless we honour the promises made, to turn the commitments in the Glasgow Climate Pact into action, they will wither on the vine.

“We will have mitigated no risks. Seized no opportunities. We will have fractured the trust built between nations. And 1.5°C will slip from our grasp.”

Despite the current threat of war between Russia and Ukraine, the world still needed to unite in “collective self-interest” to combat global warming, he said.

Glasgow had demonstrated “that climate can create a space for co-operation amongst the splintered global politics” showing that the world “can work together to improve our common future to address major global challenges and to seize opportunities”.

He referred to the apocalyptic Netflix film Don’t Look Up, in which an asteroid destroys Earth. “The final line has stayed with me: 'We really did have everything, didn’t we?' We do have everything," he said. "And we must not throw it away. There is no more time to ‘sit tight and assess’. We must deliver.”

Mr Sharma, who last year told The National that climate change was the world’s biggest security risk, outlined Britain’s priorities that include ensuring countries understand it was in their own interest to work together on climate change.

The politician wants to turn the conference’s “ambition into action”, insisting that the world must maintain the urgency and the energy to honour promises made before Cop27 in Sharm El Sheikh in November.

The key is keeping to the agreements to reduce carbon emissions to ensure temperature rises do not exceed 1.5°C, Mr Sharma said. He wants countries to deliver on their net zero commitments and 2030 emissions reduction targets, particularly ending coal power, halting deforestation and transitioning to clean vehicles.

Alok Sharma, Cop26 president, at Expo Dubai 2020. He says promises must be fulfilled to ensure climate change remains stable. Pawan Singh / The National

Britain also wants international financial institutions to deliver on the $100 billion commitments to help developing countries transition to renewable energy.

Mr Sharma has promised towork hand-in-hand” with Egypt and UAE’s Cop27 and Cop 28 presidents, respectively, to deliver on the priorities and keep climate at the top of the international agenda.

“At Cop26 itself almost 200 countries came together and agreed the historic Glasgow Climate Pact,” Mr Sharma said.

“In doing so they demonstrated that climate can create a space for co-operation amid a splintered global politics, that the world can work together to improve our common future, to address major global challenges and to seize opportunities.”

He argued that clean energy was now competitive and that the “global race to supply the technologies and solutions a net-zero world needs is on”.

“The train is pulling out of the station and countries and companies that want to remain competitive need to leap on now,” he said.

That was why the private sector is now no longer interested in investing in coal. “They can see it is the direction of travel, they can see that they're going to end up with potentially stranded assets.”

Britain will seek to ensure that countries honour commitments made to poorer nations vulnerable to climate change, particularly those at risk of rising sea levels, and to double financing by 2025.

“The Glasgow Climate Pact was a product of international co-operation and a practical demonstration of Global Britain in action,” Mr Sharma said. “So my absolute focus for the UK presidency year is delivery.”

Mr Sharma is expected to undertake further meetings with his UAE and Egypt counterparts this year to build strong partnerships.

Updated: January 24, 2022, 2:00 PM