Can’t wait for years to take action: COP 26 president Alok Sharma on climate crisis

Updated on Aug 16, 2021 04:54 AM IST

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last week warned in a key report that the planet has only a small window left to prevent worsening effects of the climate crisis

Sharma, who is set to visit India this week, also said he expects world leaders to finalise a delivery plan for the $100 billion/year pledge for developing countries before the COP26 meeting.(Agencies)
Sharma, who is set to visit India this week, also said he expects world leaders to finalise a delivery plan for the $100 billion/year pledge for developing countries before the COP26 meeting.(Agencies)
ByJayashree Nandi, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last week warned in a key report that the planet has only a small window left to prevent worsening effects of the climate crisis.

United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) president Alok Sharma, who will chair the crucial meeting in Glasgow later this year, spoke to HT’s Jayashree Nandi about the IPCC report, net-zero emission targets, and the possibility of still limiting global warming. Sharma, who is set to visit India this week, also said he expects world leaders to finalise a delivery plan for the $100 billion/year pledge for developing countries before the COP26 meeting. Excerpts:

The IPCC report has indicated that it is possibly now inevitable that we will breach the 1.5 degrees C goal. Do you think the global community has done so little and so late that we have now reached a point of no return?

The IPCC report is a real wake-up call for the whole world and what it does say, of course, is that the door is still ajar, if I can put it like that, but it is likely to close very fast unless we collectively take more ambitious action on cutting emissions. The next decade is going to be absolutely decisive in terms of taking action, so what we cannot do is to wait two years, five years, 10 years before every country comes forward and sets out ambitious plans and actions to deliver them. We need to take action right now.

The IPCC report has spelled out that it is critical that parties move to net zero emissions by 2050 to even attempt keeping global warming under 1.5°C or 2°C. Are you expecting developing countries like India to also commit to the target?

I was in India some months ago and I am coming again (this week). The message that I delivered to ministers in Delhi is entirely consistent with the message I deliver to every government — that we must do everything we can to keep (warming under) 1.5°C within reach. Part of that is to come up with ambitious commitments to cut emissions by 2030, (then) there are 2030 NDCs (nationally determined contributions), but also countries have to commit to net zero by the middle of the century. Now when we (UK) took on the COP 26 presidency, less than 30% of the global economy was covered by net-zero target, we are now at 70%. You have seen China set out its plan for net-zero by 2060; Brazil has come forward with 2050, so you are seeing countries moving forward. But we want every country to set out plans to go to net-zero by the middle of the century.

India and other developing countries believe that the Paris agreement principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities are undermined because the promised finance of $100 billion per year hasn’t come through. How will you gain their trust now?

I have been very clear since I took on the role of president for COP 26 that delivering the $100 billion a year from 2020 to 2025 is a matter of trust for developing countries and for me, this is a totemic figure... Now, the good news is that we saw new money coming forward from Germany, from Japan and from Canada at the end of the G7 leaders’ summit (in June) and also the UK... I also held a ministerial meeting where we had around 50 ministers coming together on July 25 and 26 in London and one of the issues that is being taken forward is a clear delivery plan on the $100 billion funding. I am working on that with ministerial colleagues from the German government and the Canadian government, and I hope that we can set out a delivery plan before COP 26, so it will inject confidence into the developing countries.

In comparison to top emitters, India’s per capita emissions are far lower than that of the US, China and the EU. Do you think it’s fair to ask countries with extremely low per-capita emissions to switch to net zero?

I think the key issue here is about clean growth. I have always been very clear that we cannot ask any developing country, which is growing its economy rapidly, to not grow. What I think we can do is to support a country to leapfrog the dirty power (fossil fuels) and move towards the clean energy revolution. I am incredibly impressed... from all the conversations I had with friends and ministers in India, there is this real desireto push forward on renewables and I think that is what we need to see across all countries.

COP26 is a make-or-break conference. Do you have any worries that some countries may block progress?

We have been working as a team. I have been very pleased with the overall feedback that I get from governments... that they want to see COP 26 be successful. But at the end of the day, this is going to require compromise on some of the outstanding matters that have to be resolved. I think there is still a lot of hard work to do between now and COP26. I believe this is our last best hope of ensuring that we keep the 1.5°C (target) within reach. The decisions that this set of leaders take will impact younger generations and future generations... This is about the future of humanity and we need to do everything we can to avoid the catastrophe that would otherwise engulf all of us if we don’t make progress at Glasgow.

The Bloomberg NEF fact sheet released last month said some G20 countries provided $3.3 trillion support for coal, oil, gas and fossil-fuel power between 2015 and 2019. Eight countries -- Australia, Canada, the US, Brazil, France, Indonesia, Mexico and China -- increased their support to the fossil fuel industry. How will this be addressed when you are expecting developing countries to cut coal?

I want COP26 to be the COP that consigns coal power to history and if you look at what the G7 countries have done... and one of the commitments made there was that G7 nations would from this year end the financing of international coal projects overseas. We have the same commitment from South Korea, which is very welcome, and I think more broadly... the private sector investors are increasingly reluctant to invest in coal because from their perspective they can see that in the next few years they may end up with stranded assets. If you look at the market itself, it is moving in the direction of renewables. For example, India has got a real ambitious plan to go to 450GW of renewables and I think you are seeing that across the world as well. The market is moving against coal and there is a desire among countries to move forward with renewables — one of the key issues in terms of financing is how do we will help and support the developing countries access to private finance when it comes to money coming into renewables and that is part of the work we are doing.

Several countries, including the UK, have announced net-zero targets. But, when you look at data from Climate Action Tracker, several countries such as Russia, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Brazil, Canada, Australia and even UK are not 2 degree C compliant. This is mainly because the pathways to achieve their climate targets are not clear. How will you ensure countries achieve what they promise?

For the UK, we now have an NDC which has reduction of emissions of at least 68% by 2030 on a 1990 base year and we have an independent committee on climate change, which says this is compatible with net-zero by 2050. At the G20, a climate and energy ministers’ meeting in Naples in July, there was commitment from all G20 states to submit ambitious NDCs before COP 26. And they will submit commitments on long-term strategies as well. What we want to see is that every country comes up with its long-term strategy and sets out a clear plan. The UK will be setting out its net-zero strategy before COP26 and then we need to see all countries follow through on actions. One of the areas that we want to try and resolve from the Paris Agreement rule book is transparency, and if we are able to do that, I hope that will also allow people to track what each of us as individual countries are doing to cut emissions.

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