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COP26 provides key moment for transformational diplomacy

19 April 2021

The Foreign Affairs Committee today publishes its Report A climate for ambition: Diplomatic preparations for COP26.

The Report highlights COP26 as a key moment in our response to global climate change and as the most significant UN climate summit since Paris in 2015. If COP26 fails it may become impossible to limit the average rise in temperatures to below 2°C, let alone to 1.5°C.

A path to net zero

Previous conferences have too often been momentary waypoints that have not secured the change needed. The UK's Presidency will not be a success unless it sets a path to net zero made real by changes to our economy, that recognise the real cost of carbon output, and are secured by ambitious green financing. Only real change will build global resilience and count the cost of climate change.

Current global commitments and NDCs are a long way off what will be needed to keep global temperature rises under 1.5°C. The half-measures and partial promises of previous rounds risk repetition unless the UK can bring partners together to encourage more ambitious climate pledges.

Transformational diplomacy

The UK has the chance to lead and set ambitious domestic climate policies, alongside credible plans to deliver them. With Britain's Presidency of the G7, Italy’s Chair of the G20 and the appointment of a new US President committed to climate change, now is the moment to engage in transformational diplomacy.

Offering technological leadership through investment and financial innovation, the UK can be a leader in low-carbon industry. HM Treasury’s role, from enabling crypto-contracts to insurance, could facilitate virtual carbon capture by eliminating the savings to consumers from manufacturing in jurisdictions where carbon costs least so that the polluter pays.

Joint engagement

This year will only be successful for British diplomacy if the G7 and COP are seen as part of a joint engagement. Both presidencies can be used to show that environmental agendas are not in competition with, but complement economic growth, health, development and security policies, and become an integrated part of a national strategy.

The FCDO's plan should include parliaments and people, along with the technological transformation called for in the Integrated Review, to deliver a more prosperous and stable world for the British people.

Impact of Covid-19

Continuing uncertainties around restrictions will present logistical challenges given that roughly 30,000 delegates would usually be expected to attend a COP. With only six months until the conference is due to take place, the Government have yet to outline any plans for what may happen if numbers of attendees are limited.

There is a distinct possibility that large parts of the summit will have to be moved online or downscaled. Those participating need more certainty on how covid may affect the logistics of the conference. In response to our report the UK Government should set out the criteria it will use to determine whether COP26 can go ahead as an in-person conference.

Chair's comments

Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Tom Tugendhat MP, said:

"Cooperating to manage and even reverse the causes of a changing climate transcends borders. It demands international cooperation and scientific understanding.

“Diplomacy has a critical role to play in the coordinated effort against climate change, and the annual COP summits provide a moment to bring world leaders and experts together to assess the continuing challenges and pace of progress.

“Though covid has changed plans across the world, and for some, shortened horizons, the need for a strategic outlook and more radical thinking has never been more important. The way we trade, travel and interact is so different from only 18 months ago that we must rethink the traditional diplomatic jamboree.

“The lessons of the pandemic offer a way of turning away from airmiles and onto airwaves, especially when discussing the climate emergency. Alongside the networked diplomacy this committee has called for in the past, Britain has a chance to embed partners into the hosting of regional events and connect them all through technology, making this a truly global, truly green event.

“The FCDO and their Italian colleagues, who share the presidency, have the diplomatic connections needed to work together to address challenges and create opportunities, convene coalitions and build nimble networks able to meet this increased ambition.”

Image: Crown Copyright