3 May 2021
We have less than 200 days to make COP26 a success – and save the planet

by Alok Sharma

There are less than 200 days to go before the UK brings world leaders to Glasgow for COP26 – the most crucial climate moment since the historic Paris Agreement was signed in 2015 – and every one of those days counts.

Our fragile planet is overheating, and the effects of this are disrupting and threatening lives the world over. From families across the UK forced to repair homes in the wake of Storm Ciara, to people around the world facing wildfires, drought and severe flooding.

I saw this in Nepal earlier this year when we visited the settlement town of Jonsom in the Hindukush Himalayas. I saw how glacial lakes are forming, due to glaciers melting, leading to flooding in communities. I have spoken to representatives from Small Island Developing States who have told me if we fail to tackle climate change urgently they will soon have nowhere to call home.

The warning lights are flashing bright red and the next decade will be make, or break, for planet earth. Before a baby born this year has even finished primary school, the future will be set.

At Paris, world leaders made an important commitment to limit global heating to well below 2C above pre-industrial levels, with an aspiration not to breach 1.5C. But in terms of action the world has not moved fast enough and we now face the catastrophic consequences of warming of more than 3C by 2100 above pre-industrial levels, with the risk of even higher warming. Many millions around the world are already facing the devastating impact of the current rise in temperatures of just over 1C.

The good news is the world is in a different place to where we were a year ago and the UK is leading the charge. When the UK took on the COP26 presidency less than 30 per cent of the global economy was covered by a net zero target. Now that figure is 70 per cent. The Prime Minister has also announced that we will cut carbon emissions by 78 per cent by 2035, almost 15 years ahead of the previous target and the most ambitious in the world.

We are building back greener from the current Covid crisis and supporting green jobs with our green industrial revolution to get to our legally binding net zero target by 2050. We’ve decarbonised our economy faster than any other G20 country since the year 2000. We’ve committed to banning new petrol and diesel cars by 2030

At President Biden’s recent Leaders Summit on Climate, we also welcomed strengthened ambition from countries like Japan, Korea, Canada – and the US itself.

But the world still needs to shift gear – and COP26 must be the moment that we do so. The UK presidency has four goals to get us there.

First, I am asking countries to set clear 2030 emission reduction targets that put us on a path to net zero emissions by mid-century. The pace of change needs to pick up significantly to keep 1.5C within reach. 

Second, I am urging countries to ramp up support for communities dealing with the most severe climate risks. Defences, warning systems and resilient infrastructure are all vitally needed, but often out of reach.

Third, we need to boost funding to support these aims. At Paris, developed countries committed to mobilise at least USD100 billion every year in climate finance from 2020 to 2025, to support developing countries. The UK is leading by example, having committed £11.6bn over this period. But globally, we have some way to go to meet this goal.

Finally, we need to drive up global collaboration. The climate crisis cannot be tackled by one government alone. We are laying the foundations for faster progress across major emitting sectors, through key international partnerships such as the Energy Transition Council and the Zero Emissions Vehicles Transition Council, and pushing for ambitious policy commitments around the world, such as phasing out new coal power plants, and ensuring all new cars are zero emission by 2040. In addition, we still have to close off outstanding elements of the Paris rulebook.

In every discussion I have with governments, international organisations, businesses, and civil society over the next 182 days, I will continue to ask them to accelerate bold pledges to protect our planet.

I urge my fellow parliamentarians to do the same. We will shortly be unveiling more on our public facing campaign to make COP26 the moment we turn the tide.

The UK is showing that a greener future is possible. Glasgow must be the moment that we bring the world with us.

Published in The House Magazine