Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee
Oral evidence: Net zero and UN climate summits, HC 144
Tuesday 19 January 2021
Ordered by the House of Commons to be published on 19 January 2021.
Members present: Darren Jones (Chair); Alan Brown; Judith Cummins; Richard Fuller; Ms Nusrat Ghani; Paul Howell; Mark Jenkinson; Mark Pawsey; Alexander Stafford; Zarah Sultana.
Environmental Audit Committee members also present: Philip Dunne; Jerome Mayhew; Alex Sobel.
Questions 185 - 257
I: Rt Hon Alok Sharma MP, President, COP 26; Peter Hill, CEO, COP 26, Cabinet Office; Ros Eales, Chief Operating Officer, COP 26, Cabinet Office; and Archie Young, UK Lead Climate Negotiator, COP 26, Cabinet Office.
II: Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng MP, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy; Joanna Whittington, Director General for Energy and Security, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy; Jo Shanmugalingam, Director General for Industrial Strategy, Science and Innovation, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy; and Ashley Ibbett, Director General for Trade, Europe and Analysis, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
Written evidence from witnesses:
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Examination of Witnesses
Q185 Chair: Welcome to this morning’s session of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee, where we have the pleasure of two Secretary of State‑level spokespeople on behalf of the Government: the president of COP 26, Alok Sharma, on the first panel; and Kwasi Kwarteng, the new Business Secretary, on the second panel, where we will be talking about the energy White Paper and some other broader issues at the BEIS Department.
For the first hour today, we are delighted to welcome Alok Sharma, who is now the full‑time president of COP 26. We are grateful that the president was able to find the time today to be with us. Having had this in the diary when he was BEIS Secretary of State, we are grateful that you are with us today, alongside Peter Hill, the CEO of COP 26, Archie Young, the UK lead climate negotiator, and Ros Eales, the chief operating officer for COP 26. Welcome to all of you.
Alok, before we begin, do I call you Secretary of State, Mr President or Mr Sharma? I quite like Mr President. Is that your preference?
Alok Sharma: You can stick with Alok. We know each other well enough now.
Q186 Chair: Alok, you will have seen that at the Liaison Committee this week I asked the Prime Minister what his ambition is for COP 26, and he said that he wanted as many countries around the world as possible to sign up to the net zero journey. Is that the headline ambition for you as COP 26 president, or would you provide a few other bits around that?
Alok Sharma: It is always a pleasure to be in front of the BEIS Select Committee, and I am sure there will be more occasions during this year when I will be coming in front of you. 2021 is going to be a big year for the climate and for the UK. As well as COP 26, we have the G7, and then our COP partner Italy has the chairmanship of the G20. I am very keen that all these international gatherings have what I would describe as the golden thread of climate action woven through them. That is so vital. The UK has a big part to play in making sure that happens.
We had at the end of last year, as you know, the Climate Ambition Summit. We had 75 leaders from around the world coming together. It was an event hosted by the Prime Minister together with the UN Secretary‑General and President Macron, and 75 world leaders made concrete commitments. There were commitments on net zero, which is vital, but also on nationally determined contributions. Those short‑term aims for how you get on the pathway to net zero are going to be really important.
In the speech I gave at the end of that event, I said that there are four areas that we wanted to particularly focus on. The first was a step change in mitigation, making sure that all countries come forward with ambitions NDCs. The second was for countries to strengthen their adaptation plans, and of course the UK set out its own adaptation plan when it submitted its NDC to the UNFCCC. Then it is very important to get finance flowing. There is this totemic figure of $100 billion a year in finance that has been promised by developed countries, and we need to deliver on that and see how we can get private finance flowing.
The final thing was the increase in international co‑operation, ensuring that the outstanding items in the Paris rulebook are closed off and we have a fair and negotiated outcome on that. Then, in terms of driving that international co‑operation, we are running five campaigns on nature, adaptation and resilience, clean energy, zero‑emission vehicles and finance. In conclusion to your initial question, I want this to be the most inclusive COP ever, and I am very happy, as we go through the questioning, to talk about what we are doing to ensure that that happens.
Q187 Chair: A concern that has been raised recently is about the decision by Government, specifically your colleague Robert Jenrick, not to intervene in the new coal mine decision in Cumbria. As the previous BEIS Secretary, were you part of any discussions with MHCLG about trying to say that new coal power stations in the UK are not in line with our climate commitments or what we are trying to tell other countries?
Alok Sharma: The decision that was made there was about allowing a local authority to take on that decision making. More broadly, we have had a big impact in bringing down the mix of coal as part of our energy mix. You know we have a commitment to end coal usage as well. You will have also seen the commitment by the Prime Minister to stop international financing support for coal, made at the UK‑Africa investment summit last year. In other areas where we have been providing financing to other countries, we are stopping that when it comes to carbon.
Q188 Chair: In that context, from my perspective it is pretty embarrassing that we are starting a new coal power station in the UK. Surely you have had a discussion with colleagues in Government to say, “This is not the right direction of travel.”
Alok Sharma: I do not want to go into the details of discussions we may have had in Government at either ministerial or official level. The direction of travel for the UK is very clear, and I completely understand the point you are making.
Q189 Chair: There is a lot of discussion about how much progress we will make at COP 26 in meeting the 1.5° Celsius target and the Paris rulebook. We have had some evidence to the Select Committee that the language suggests we might not get there, but that that is okay. Witnesses have said to us, “That is really not okay. We need to get to 1.5° Celsius capped post‑industrial levels.” What is your view on COP 26 and how much progress we will make towards that target and the Paris agreement?
Alok Sharma: You have seen the commitments to net zero made by major economies. We have seen a momentum shift during the last year in the commitments that have been made by Japan and South Korea. I was in South Korea on the day President Moon made his commitment to net zero. We have seen the commitments made by China to net zero before 2060, and we have the incoming Biden Administration as well.
We want to make best efforts to bend that curve: 2°, closer to 1.5°, is what is set out in the Paris agreement. We want to make every effort to get there. It is encouraging that 43 enhanced NDCs have now come forward. As I made very clear at the Climate Ambition Summit, we need to make a lot more progress during this year, if we are to get to that point and be able to bend the curve downwards.
Chair: I should have said at the beginning that we are also delighted to welcome Philip Dunne, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, and his colleagues Jerome Mayhew and Alex Sobel.
Q190 Jerome Mayhew: Mr Sharma, you addressed four key objectives for the COP. The first one is mitigation and the fourth one is increasing the levels of international co‑operation. I am sure you are aware that there is a growing head of steam behind supporting the international introduction of border carbon adjustments as a key objective of COP 26. Domestically, I noted there was an article in The Times just yesterday by the economics editor, suggesting that this is a tariff that could assist in economic recovery and growth. What is your thinking? Is this something the Government are interested in?
Alok Sharma: You are absolutely right that there is increasing interest in the idea of a border carbon adjustment around the world. There is no doubt about that. As you will know, the EU intends to publish some proposals on this later this year. There are other countries that have expressed concerns about what this might mean for them. To address your issue about COP 26, I am not anticipating this becoming an issue within the negotiations. As you know, it is not a mandated issue. It is not part of the work programme, but it may have an impact in terms of the overall context of Glasgow.
When it comes to the UK Government, it is a matter for the Chancellor and the Treasury. From a UK perspective, we have to consider the approaches we are going to take to tackle carbon leakage. There is no doubt about that. In terms of domestic policy, that is really one for the Treasury.
Q191 Philip Dunne: Thank you very much indeed, Chair, for inviting members of my Committee to join this session. Alok, you will recall that, before Christmas, I was one of those calling for the role of COP 26 president to be a full‑time job, so I am particularly pleased that you now have this role.
I am also concerned that you have enough support, no longer having the full panoply of a Government Department behind you. I am pleased that you have brought your executive colleagues from COP 26 with you today. Can you give us some reassurance that you will have the resources at your disposal to do, in what is now only a few months, what it took other Governments who hosted previous COPs many years to pull together?
Alok Sharma: I am very pleased to be now focusing all my energies on this. As I said, it is a big moment. COP 26 is the biggest event the UK will have ever organised, and it is vital that we make meaningful progress when it comes to tackling climate change. I will invite Peter Hill, CEO of the COP 26 unit, to comment on this, but I certainly feel we have support in Government.
As you know, over the past year it has been the COP unit, but other Government Departments have been working on this: colleagues at BEIS, Defra and HMT have been part of this, as well as our diplomatic network. I have done a lot of engagement internationally, clearly virtually, but a lot has been done with countries across the world by the diplomatic network as well. Collectively, between us, we have engaged with 126 Governments, if I am right, and we will continue to make an effort.
I am also very keen that we involve Cabinet colleagues in this agenda going forward. There is a lot of enthusiasm for this. I am confident that we will have the support and resources from Government. As you will have heard from the Liaison Committee, the Prime Minister is completely behind this agenda as well.
Peter, is there anything you wanted to add in terms of resources to reassure Mr Dunne?
Peter Hill: You have covered it very well. We have a significant team in the COP 26 unit, working night and day on this. As the COP president has said, there is a very significant number of Departments with standing teams working on this, co‑ordinated in the ways you would expect across Government and then, at ministerial level, by the COP president as chair of the climate action implementation committee and the Prime Minister as chair of the climate action strategy committee.
I do not feel at the moment that we lack support, or the people and expertise we need for the job, which is not to say that this is not a significant undertaking. No one is in any doubt about that.
Alok Sharma: If I may add one point, which Peter has made as well, my focus is on COP 26, but I continue to chair the climate action implementation committee. That also allows an opportunity for us: at the same time as we are advancing international efforts, to continue to advance our domestic agenda, through the work we have already done on the 10-point plan and the energy White Paper, which I know you will discuss with the BEIS Secretary of State.
During the last year, when I spoke to other Governments and encouraged them to be much more ambitious when it comes to NDCs and their long‑term strategies, there was always a question about what the UK was going to do. Last year, the Prime Minister set out our NDC of at least 68% by 2030, and that was extremely well received both domestically and internationally.
Q192 Philip Dunne: Mr Hill, how many people do you have in your COP 26 team?
Peter Hill: At the moment we are around 160.
Q193 Philip Dunne: Does the Foreign Office have a priority in its objectives for this year to give you all the support across missions that you require?
Peter Hill: Yes. I think I am correct in saying that all our ambassadors and heads of mission have COP as one of the objectives in their personal objectives and in their mission objectives. The Permanent Secretary of the FCDO and the Foreign and Development Secretary have both, in recent weeks and months, written to the network to ensure that they understand the priority that this needs to be given.
That is very helpful and important, but we have not had any lack of engagement from the network overseas, or indeed any lack of commitment or interest in pursuing this. They are pretty gung‑ho to push it forward.
Philip Dunne: Alok, you referred to the Liaison Committee. The Prime Minister committed that you would appear before Parliament to answer questions on the progress of COP 26, so we look forward to more scrutiny and a parliamentary session on the Floor routinely.
Q194 Ms Ghani: Mr President, you talk about the enthusiasm and support for COP; you seem to be throwing the kitchen sink at it. The French President had three years to engage before the Paris summit. The clock is running down. What are you going to do to make up for lost time?
Alok Sharma: The clock is ticking. There is no doubt about that, but I go back to the point that we have not sat on our hands over the past year. There has been a lot of engagement. I have engaged with 50 Governments. Where I have managed it, I have gone and done visits. I have been to South Korea and Italy. Before we had our first lockdown, I went to New York to meet with the permanent representatives and give a briefing, together with the Secretary‑General. I have continued to do that on an online basis.
The Climate Ambition Summit, which the UK organised together with the UN and France—we were the leading player in pulling the whole thing together—demonstrated that during last year, despite Covid, there has been some progress. Clearly, we need to do a lot more. This year, we will continue the bilateral engagements. I am also starting a dialogue with the chairs of the various negotiating groups within the UNFCCC process so we are really getting down to the nitty-gritty of the detail, which will be important in closing off the elements of the Paris rulebook that are still outstanding.
There is going to be a big diplomatic effort across the piece. You have just heard from Peter Hill about the work that is going on through the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. The Prime Minister, as is clear from the Liaison Committee, is totally committed to this. He has been on calls with world leaders, making the case for climate action, among other things. I am not complacent at all, but a lot of effort is going to go into this. We need to make sure that it is a success at the end of the process.
Q195 Ms Ghani: The president will be away from home for so long, but he will need the support of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is obviously throwing his weight behind the principles, but can the president share exactly what part of the programme the Prime Minister is leading on?
Alok Sharma: As I said, the Prime Minister is already playing a key role in diplomatic efforts. He led the UK effort on the Climate Ambition Summit. Very many people commented that it was a good event, and we got some good commitments. Clearly, we need to do a lot more. He has had direct engagements on climate with heads of state including President Xi, Prime Minister Modi, President Macron, Chancellor Merkel and President Moon. There is a whole range. He has already had an introductory call with President-elect Biden, and we are looking forward to working closely and in partnership with the new Administration when it comes into place.
This is an agenda that the Prime Minister has championed for a very long time. I was with him as a junior Minister at the Foreign Office when he was Foreign Secretary, and he was the one who made our commitment to climate action and the doubling of our funding for ICF at UNGA in 2019. He has championed this for a long time. Every conversation I have with him demonstrates to me that he really wants us to make an effort to succeed, and he is going to be playing a key role in talking to world leaders around the globe.
Q196 Judith Cummins: My questions are about the situation with President‑elect Biden. How did the election of President-elect Biden affect the COP 26 unit’s preparation? How are you engaging with the Biden transition team?
Alok Sharma: The Biden presidency is good news in terms of tackling climate change. I welcome the commitments the President-elect has already made to rejoin the Paris agreement and to put the US on the path to achieving net‑zero emissions by 2050. We are looking forward to working closely with the Administration following the inauguration.
Chair, as you and other colleagues will know, right now there are strict limitations on the transition team engaging with foreign Governments, and we respect that. Nevertheless, we have been engaging with climate policy experts in the US and senior political folks who are close to the incoming Administration. I had a very good conversation with John Kerry prior to his appointment, and I am looking forward to continuing that dialogue and hopefully getting out to the US in person at some stage. We will have those formal discussions.
It is worth pointing out that, during the last year, the COP unit and the rest of our network have continued to engage with the US on climate at sub‑federal level. I have had a number of very good conversations with Eric Garcetti, the Mayor of Los Angeles, who leads the C40 Cities group, and Jared Blumenfeld, the California Secretary For Environmental Protection, who sits on our zero‑emission vehicles council. We have a very good dialogue with them.
At the Climate Ambition Summit, we had one governor representing a Democratic state and one representing a Republican state. There is some consensus already on this issue. Around 29 states in the US already have in place some sort of clean energy or renewable energy target, and nine have committed to net zero. We are looking forward to formal dialogue with the incoming Administration, but we have been talking at various levels already over the past year with players in the US.
Q197 Judith Cummins: The President-elect has announced plans to host a meeting of major economies to discuss global climate action. What role is the UK playing in this as co‑president of COP, and how does it fit in with the wider COP programme?
Alok Sharma: We are building up a calendar of events when it comes to COP. There are a whole range of events already in the international calendar where there is an opportunity to talk about climate. We welcome the incoming Administration’s ambition to hold an event soon following the inauguration, and we will work with them on that. The international community will be keen to see the detail of any future US NDC and any future commitments on finance. Like I say, I am very positive about the commitments that were made during the presidential election. We are looking forward to working closely with the new Administration.
Q198 Alexander Stafford: It is good to see that there is now a dedicated person looking after this aspect. Going back to when the Government first announced that they would be holding the presidency, do you believe the Government fully understood what this would mean and what it would entail?
Alok Sharma: I was not there at the bidding stage. I might invite Peter Hill to comment on this. Everything I have seen since I came into this role from February of last year suggests that the Government very clearly understood what COP was all about. The UK Government have attended all the previous COPs. There is a process of securing the nomination for this role, and the UK Government jumped through the hoops on that. We have a good track record of organising and delivering big events: the G8 at Gleneagles; the NATO summit that took place in 2014; CHOGM, which took place in London in 2018; and last year we had the UK‑Africa investment summit, which I was involved in the organisation of. We have a track record of doing these things.
From what I have seen since I have been in post, the UK Government have very clearly understood what is required. Archie Young is our chief negotiator and has been involved for a number of years as part of the negotiation process. I do not know whether he or Peter wants to comment on the UK Government understanding what we were getting into.
Peter Hill: I was in a different role at that time and saw those discussions from a different position. There was quite careful consideration, because it was seen as an enormous opportunity but also a considerable responsibility. At least as far as I was part of it, there was discussion of what this involved and what the Government were taking on. Since I started this job, in October the year before last, the Prime Minister has left me in no doubt about the importance he attaches to this in the UK’s overall international efforts for 2020 and 2021. He has been crystal clear with me about how important this is and the support we are going to have from across Government. Archie is more of an old hand at COPs than I am, so he may want to come in.
Archie Young: As many of you will know, the process of deciding on the host for COP tracks the five UN regional groups. COP 26 was always due to be the turn of WEOG, the western Europe and other states group. When the conversation among other WEOG members started towards the end of 2017, several countries were interested, including us and others. That was when the conversations across Government started. We have been looking at this for a long time, even before the possibility of the UK hosting became public. It was a cross‑Government effort. The conversation was led by BEIS, given that is where our international climate negotiations focus is led from, but included all the Ministries across Government that were involved.
It also included going through the appropriate steps in Government, the appropriate internal review processes, the appropriate conversations with Treasury, to understand what the resource requirements and the appropriate milestones would be. Of course, nobody foresaw that we would end up having the longest incoming presidency in history, given Covid. Inevitably, our plans have had to change and adapt, but, in the unit we discussed earlier, the way we have staffed up and prepared ourselves for this has enabled us to have the resources and the plans ready despite these challenging and uncertain circumstances.
Q199 Alexander Stafford: That seems very positive overall, but when we had Claire O’Neill, the previous president, speaking to the Committee, she said there was initially some reluctance among Departments around the bid. Is there still reluctance? Has it been overcome? Are all the Departments now pushing in the right direction?
Alok Sharma: Yes, all Departments are pushing in the same direction on this. Cabinet colleagues are very keen to be involved, to support this process and to get their Departments behind this effort on COP 26. As I said, I was not there at the start of the process, but now I can tell you that there is a huge amount of momentum.
Picking up the point that Archie made, of all the COP presidencies, this is probably unique given the circumstances in which we find ourselves. We are not able to meet physically, as we would like, and have to do a lot of engagement virtually, but we have continued that. If I think back, as well as the engagement I have done on a bilateral basis, during the last year I have also taken part in about 50 events with the international climate community. That is just what I have done. The whole team has done an enormous amount of work, and we have had support from other Government Departments as part of this.
Q200 Alexander Stafford: It is good to see there is internal support, but we were also told that the COP unit was unable to recruit externally and to get the best people for the role, frankly. Is that still the case? How are you ensuring that we get the best external hires into your team to make the best of this?
Alok Sharma: That is certainly not the case. If you look at the COP unit—again, Peter might want to comment on this—it is made up of folks with particular expertise who are seconded in from around the Civil Service, but we also have externals who have been hired in. It is worth pointing out that we also have the high‑level champion, Nigel Topping, who is leading the process of engaging with non‑state actors, getting them to sign up to the Race to Zero campaign, so they commit to going to net zero by 2050 at the latest on science‑based targets. He has a couple of civil servants who work with him, supporting him on a full‑time basis, but he also has access to 50 colleagues who have been seconded in mostly from the private sector, some of them part time.
I have never felt, during the time I have been involved with COP 26, that there has been a hesitancy to take on experts, if we need them. We also have various advisory groups. One of them is Friends of COP, and its details are on the COP website. These individuals include some former COP presidents, and we lean on these experts very heavily. I have very regular conversations on an informal basis to get support, thoughts and reaction from those individuals. I certainly do not feel we have been shy in reaching out and getting external support when we have needed it.
Q201 Mark Pawsey: Good morning, Alok. I want to talk about the question of raising finance for the commitments made in the Paris agreement. In your opening remarks, you said that we need to get finance flowing. The sums of money to achieve what we want to achieve are eye‑wateringly large, and this is for economies that have just had to spend very substantial sums supporting businesses and healthcare systems through Covid. You said we need to get to $100 billion per year by 2025. How are we going to get there?
Alok Sharma: You are absolutely right that finance and getting it flowing is one of our key aims as part of the COP presidency. The figure of $100 billion is what we are looking for developed countries to make available through international climate finance for developing countries.
This is a totemic thing, and it is a matter of trust. When I talk to developing countries, they bring up this issue: “When are we going to reach the goal of $100 billion? It should have been delivered for 2020.” The latest OECD figures show that, in 2018, we were under $80 billion a year. We will not get the figure for 2020 until probably past COP, but I am sure that people will make various estimates.
We know this is a difficult time in terms of fundraising, but this is one of the areas I am very keen to focus on, to ensure that we get funding into the system to support developing countries. We are working very closely with multilateral development banks, with folks like David Malpass at the World Bank and Kristalina Georgieva at the IMF. The World Bank spoke at the Climate Ambition Summit and has committed to targeting 35% of its spending towards the contribution to meet climate goals. That is a very positive development, but we need to do more.
One side is public finance, and we published a paper very recently setting out what our priorities are when it comes to public finance on COP 26. There is also the work Mark Carney is doing on getting private finance flowing. We have to make a big effort to ensure that more funding goes towards climate and climate‑related infrastructure projects around the world.
Q202 Mark Pawsey: How can private financiers be encouraged to make the contributions that are necessary?
Alok Sharma: Part of it is the leverage you get on any public sector financing, and on the money the multilateral development banks put in. When I was at DFID, we looked at starting a programme on how to make projects more bankable in terms of trying to get private sector money in. That is not what the COP 26 agenda is about in the mainstream, but there is a lot more that we need to do.
It is worth pointing out that there has been quite a lot of success when it comes to the Race to Zero campaign. We have asset managers with trillions of dollars under management signed up to Race to Zero. We are at an inflection point where we are seeing the private sector looking at how you invest in climate and how you go green yourself.
Some of it will be driven by people wanting to do the right thing, but it is also driven by shareholder value. If you look at the market capitalisations of what I would describe as standard economy companies, as opposed to green economy companies, you see the divergence across the world in that. I am hopeful, but there is a lot we have to do to get finance flowing.
Q203 Mark Pawsey: You also spoke about the distinction between mitigation projects for the developing world and adaptation projects that are taking place in the developed world, where the priorities are different. We know that something like £700 billion of annual funding is needed for the mitigation projects. The UK has made an allocation of just £3 billion. From your discussions with developing countries, is our contribution adequate? Are we doing enough?
Alok Sharma: The £3 billion refers to the increase for nature‑based solutions that the Prime Minister has very recently announced, and that is part of the £11.6 billion ICF over the next five years. From our point of view, that commitment on nature is a big one. We need to make sure that all partners and Governments around the world in developed countries are stepping forward when it comes to their own commitments on climate finance.
Q204 Mark Pawsey: As a Government, we are looking at reducing the amount we spend on overseas aid. Is that making discussions with developing countries more difficult in terms of encouraging them to adopt the measures that we all know are necessary?
Alok Sharma: When the policy change was announced, I had feedback from NGOs and those who are connected with development matters, but people have also understood that—
Q205 Mark Pawsey: What kind of feedback was that?
Alok Sharma: There will be folks within the climate world who feel that we should not have made the reduction. However, there is also a very clear understanding that the impact of the pandemic has forced us to take some very tough and necessary decisions.
It is worth pointing out that this is a temporary measure. We will be returning to spending 0.7% of GNI on ODA when the fiscal situation allows. Even at the level we are at, we are still going to be spending more than £10 billion on fighting poverty and on climate action. In terms of comparing us to others—this is an important point to make—we will still spend more of our national income in percentage terms than other developed economies like the US, Japan, Canada or Italy. If you look at the countries that make up the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee, we are still significantly higher as a proportion of the average of the DAC countries.
We do an enormous amount of good around the world and people have understood why we have had to make the change, but the key point here from a climate perspective is that, within that envelope, the £11.6 billion has been protected.
Q206 Mark Pawsey: Does this proposal mean that some projects that might otherwise have taken place will not be able to happen in time?
Alok Sharma: From a climate perspective, we have protected the £11.6 billion. I can give you some good examples. Take Colombia, which came forward with a very ambitious NDC of 51%. I have had a number of very good discussions with President Duque. The Government there, as pointed out, are very positive about the support we have provided through ICF. Going back to the point specifically on climate, the £11.6 billion is protected.
Q207 Alan Brown: Good morning, Alok. Last week the Prime Minister said that you would be able to answer questions in the House on COP 26 preparations. Can you confirm that that is the case? More importantly, if that is the case, what is the process going to be?
Alok Sharma: Yes, I can confirm that I will. We are just working out precisely how that mechanism will work, but we will come to a conclusion on that very quickly. I will write to parliamentary colleagues. I also expect to make regular statements to the House and to answer written questions, and I have colleagues across Government who, of course, support this as well. The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth, who is also the COP envoy for adaptation and resilience, will be supporting me when it comes to any business in the House on COP 26 preparations.
I am very keen to emphasise that I want to be as collaborative as possible with parliamentary colleagues. As Philip Dunne said, I have been in front of his Committee previously; last year I was in front of the Lords Select Committee answering questions on COP 26. We had a session with APPGs in December that was open to all parliamentarians, in both the Commons and the Lords, to answer any questions, together with the team. We will continue that.
Very shortly, I will be inviting the chairs of the appropriate APPGs to meet me to see how we can work together. We genuinely want, as a Government, for this to be the most inclusive COP ever. That, of course, will include parliamentarians in the UK.
Q208 Alan Brown: When will we have the opportunity to question you in the House of Commons? When will that process be up and running?
Alok Sharma: As I said, I will confirm details on precisely how that will work very shortly, but there is a very clear commitment on the part of the Prime Minister and on my part to engage closely with parliamentarians.
Q209 Alan Brown: If we look at national delegations to COP 26, many other countries include Back-Bench and Opposition members. Is that something you have given consideration to?
Alok Sharma: This came up at the Liaison Committee. Philip Dunne may have raised this issue. No decisions have been taken as yet on the form of the UK delegation. We will share any details when we have them. I take on the suggestion that has been made, but, as the Prime Minister said when this was raised at the Liaison Committee, we are not allocating places in a Committee session like this. I have noted the point that has been made.
Q210 Alan Brown: You will be aware that there have been reports of difficulties in the relationship between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations, including the Scottish Government. Claire O’Neill was quite vocal on that, especially when she was in front of the Committee. Previously, the media picked up that, at a Scottish Tory fringe event, the Prime Minister said he did not want to see Nicola Sturgeon anywhere near COP 26. Do you share the same view as the Prime Minister?
Alok Sharma: My view is the same as the Prime Minister’s, which is that we want this to be an inclusive COP. As I am sure you will have heard from colleagues in the Scottish Government, I have already set up a COP 26 devolved Administrations ministerial group, which brings together the Environment Ministers in the devolved Administrations with the relevant Secretary of State in the UK Government. We had the first meeting of that in November, and we are going to do this on a quarterly cycle.
The aim is to make sure we have very effective engagement and collaboration between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. It is worth pointing out that extensive official‑level engagement is already taking place on all the operational issues relating to Glasgow. That is happening with the Scottish Government, the city council and other delivery partners. I was up in Glasgow in August and, when I am able to, I will go up again soon to meet the delivery partners. I had a very positive meeting with them. It is worth pointing out that a joint delivery framework has been agreed between the Scottish delivery partners, including the Scottish Government, and the COP unit. We want this to be as inclusive as possible.
I might invite the chief operating officer, Ros Eales, to comment on the day‑to‑day engagement that is going on up in Scotland.
Ros Eales: Thank you, COP president. To echo what you said, at ministerial level you have been engaging with counterparts, and that is reflected at official level. Very regularly, we work closely with key delivery partners in Scotland and as part of the Scottish Government. We have Police Scotland, the city council in Glasgow, the Scottish Ambulance Service and Transport Scotland, just to name a few. Delivering a safe, secure and inclusive event requires a very close working relationship with them, but it also requires the governance structures to be right. As the COP president has outlined, we have a good delivery framework and we have a delivery board that includes all these partners, as you would expect.
Q211 Alan Brown: Just for confirmation, there will be no attempt to cut out the top levels of the Scottish Government from attending COP 26?
Alok Sharma: COP 26 is going to be open to the public as well, so the idea of cutting people out is not there at all. I would just share with the Committee that, with the parliamentary authorities, we want to think about whether the half‑term autumn recess this year can have some overlap with COP 26, which will hopefully allow parliamentarians to go up to Glasgow. Alan, I would just say to you that we want this to be as inclusive as possible. This is a UK event and, as I said, I am working very closely with the DAs, as is the COP team itself.
Q212 Chair: When you say “questions in Parliament,” will you be on the rota for questions in the same way that Departments are?
Alok Sharma: I will certainly be part of a rota. That is my current working assumption, but I will write to you. I just want to be clear: I will make sure that I am available to answer questions and—this is quite an important point—to give regular updates by way of statements to the House. As we get into this year, I know there will be growing interest in COP 26, and it is right and proper that I engage with colleagues on this.
Q213 Chair: We have talked about parliamentary engagement and the devolved Administrations. A lot of our cities are taking really interesting leadership on decarbonisation. There is the Core Cities Group, for example, in the UK. Will there be some formal engagement with city leadership as well?
Alok Sharma: Yes, there is already formal engagement. We have a cities and regions group up and running. We have had one meeting; we will be doing a lot more of those. We want to tie all of this together to ensure that every part of the UK feels involved. Yes, that engagement is ongoing and will ramp up.
Q214 Alex Sobel: I would like to thank you, Alok, for your comments regarding all-party groups, as chair of the net zero all‑party group, and for the fact that you are looking at potentially having an overlap with the parliamentary recess, which would really help the all‑party groups.
My question is about Covid. We are in the third lockdown now, and this lockdown is due to the new variant of Covid. There might be further shocks in the system, new strains and different effects of those. What steps are the Government taking to ensure the summit and the negotiations are Covid‑secure? Obviously, you will be hoping for the best but planning for the worst.
Alok Sharma: It is a very important point. Can I just go back to the point about the overlap between the half‑term parliamentary recess and COP 26? That is not a decision for me. I put that out as something that would be useful and appreciated. Those who make the decisions about the parliamentary recess will, I hope, look favourably on that.
In terms of the COP itself and how it will take place, our clear intent is that we have a main conference that is in person. Talking to a lot of the parties around the world, they feel pretty strongly that, if we are going to have negotiations, they should be conducted in person. It is particularly those countries that are most impacted by climate change that feel very acutely about this particular issue, so we want to try to do this physically.
There has been good news on vaccines. We have seen vaccination rolling out across the United Kingdom, and we have access to rapid testing as well. The COP unit is talking to colleagues in the UNFCCC, and I have a very regular dialogue with Patricia Espinosa as well, because we are putting on this thing on behalf of the UN, to understand how the secretariat’s requirements might change, given evolving situations.
I do not know whether Peter or Ros might want to comment on this, but we definitely want to ensure that we are protecting the health of participants as well as the local community in Glasgow. That is going to be paramount in our planning, but we are very keen to do everything we can to make sure that this is a physical COP. As part of trying to make this inclusive, we have learned over the past year that you can do things virtually. The Climate Ambition Summit, of course, was virtual, and we had quite a lot of learnings from that. We want to see this be a physical event, but we also want to see what more we can do virtually to extend access to COP 26.
From a planning point of view, Ros, you might want to talk about discussions you are having with the UNFCCC and, indeed, the local delivery partners.
Ros Eales: This picks up on the last point in terms of engagement with devolved Administrations. We respect the fact that public health is a devolved matter, so we are working very closely with the Scottish Government to understand the public health protection measures that will be in place in various scenarios. That is key to ensuring the health of delegates and the health and safety of the local community in Glasgow. We are working through those various scenarios.
We are aiming to create an inclusive COP, looking at virtual elements, as the COP president has said. How can we use technology to increase our reach? We have seen that through the Climate Action Summit. The UNFCCC hosted its climate dialogues virtually at the back end of last year, so there are some useful learnings and experiences that we can draw on as we are planning our event.
Q215 Paul Howell: This is a development of the last point, which has been talked about to some extent, in terms of promoting diversity and inclusivity at the summit. We know there are various populations that are particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate change because of their reliance on natural resources for their livelihoods, or other forms of discrimination that they face due to their gender, ethnicity or level of poverty. How do we make sure that we hear from these diverse populations and not just those who are shouting loudest?
Alok Sharma: This is a really important point. We have set up a youth and civil society advisory council. As I understand it, this is the first time in any COP process that this has happened. We have had a couple of meetings of that. The co‑chairs are two young activists, one from the global north and one from the global south. The make-up of that is NGOs and civil society groups, indigenous people’s groups and youth representatives. We have put together a diverse group.
One of the key issues as part of that discussion is about how you meaningfully involve those groups and those individuals as part of the COP agenda. We have a climate and development event that is being organised for March, which will bring together both developed countries and developing countries. I made a clear commitment to civil society groups that they will be involved in a very meaningful way as part of this process. The reality is that they are often the ones who know how to effectively deliver local solutions, and they need to be part of that discussion.
At the Climate Ambition Summit, as well as world leaders, we also had speeches from civil society groups. It is going to be a really important part of the whole process to make sure everybody feels included. We are going to have the green zone as well, where there will be an opportunity for third parties to set out their stall. We will look to see which civil society groups and NGOs apply to have a place in the green zone.
Q216 Paul Howell: As you already said in answer to the previous question, the way in which communication technology has moved along due to Covid provides another opportunity to push into that space.
Could I ask one other question about inclusivity? How do you engage with the public on COP 26? How do you leverage that engagement through COP 26 to get better engagement thereafter? It is getting the man in the street to engage further than he is now. There is a trend in the right direction, but how do we really get into that?
Alok Sharma: It is a great question. It is important to demonstrate to the public that the green agenda we are following is not in isolation. It is about improving people’s lives and creating value‑added jobs going forward. As a country, we have demonstrated that we can do clean growth. One of the stats we always use is that, over the past 30 years, we have grown our economy by 75% and yet cut emissions by 43%. We have seen the 10-point plan and the energy White Paper, which we produced before Christmas. I know you will be asking questions on that.
It is very important for us to show the connection between what we are doing and people’s lives. We launched