Supplementary written evidence from the Climate & Environment Hub (C&E), Select Committee Team, House of Commons

COP26 case study for Strategic Thinking inquiry


In September 2019 the UK was awarded the Presidency of COP26, the 26th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. COP26 was originally scheduled to take place in Glasgow in November 2020, but it was pushed back to November 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

COP26 would mark the start of the implementation phase of the Paris Agreement, and therefore was seen as having particular strategic importance internationally. It presented opportunities to advance UK Government aims, notably by demonstrating the UK’s position as a global leader post-Brexit, and by mobilising UK business, civil society and cross-Government action on net zero. It was also a substantial logistical undertaking, with 40,000 delegates expected.

Early scrutiny of COP26 preparations

Following the 2019 general election, in March 2020 three Commons committees launched inquiries into preparations for COP26, and Lords Committees launched a joint inquiry.[1] During 2020 the committees all held evidence sessions, with the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) also issuing a call for written evidence, and the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee commissioning a survey of expert views on priorities for COP26 scrutiny.[2] The Committees did not proactively collaborate on these activities.

The Committee on COP26

In January 2021 the BEIS Committee held a COP26 evidence session at which members of the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) were successfully invited to guest, and the Liaison Committee discussed COP26 with the then Prime Minister. Following this, ten committee chairs, including the Chair of Liaison, jointly proposed to the COP26 President, Alok Sharma, “to pool our Committees’ scrutiny arrangements in order to reduce the number of requests for you and your team to appear before Commons select committees. [3] With his agreement the committees made an informal agreement for joint working under the working title ‘Committee on COP26’, scheduling a shared evidence session with the COP26 President and his senior advisors in each sitting month between March and December 2021. Each session was intended to focus on a different aspect of the conference preparations, with the chair of the committee leading work into a particular focus area chairing that month’s session.

Alongside this pooled scrutiny, the committees continued to conduct their own, separate, activities with wider stakeholders, both informed by and informing the Committee on COP26 sessions. For example:

After COP26, the Committee on COP26 continued its scrutiny until the formal handover of the COP Presidency to Egypt in November 2022, with three further joint evidence sessions. These focussed on issues such as progress in delivering the outcomes of the conference, implications of COP26 for UK policy, and later, the impacts of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the cost of living crisis on countries’ willingness to prioritise climate action. A somewhat smaller pool of committees participated in these post-COP scrutiny sessions with the lead on each being taken by EAC and BEIS in turn.

Lessons for scrutiny

Benefits of the ‘Committee on COP’ approach included that it:

Limitations included:

Committee events at COP26

12 Commons Committees and two Lords Committees put forward a joint bid to hold events at COP26.[6] Whilst a downscaling of the conference programme meant just two events were accepted, the proposal demonstrated the strength of appetite amongst Members engaged in scrutiny across different policy areas to participate actively in the conference. This is understood to have helped persuade Cabinet Office to allocate a larger number of COP26 passes to Members outside the negotiating delegation; historically the Government had allocated few passes to backbenchers on the basis of committee membership alone.

The Presidency team ultimately facilitated Committee Members to speak at several thematic events at the conference, and the BEIS, EAC and Lords Environment and Climate Change Committee co-hosted a joint event, inviting international parliamentarians to discuss the role of legislatures in climate policy. Committee Members chose not to scrutinise the Government on COP26 issues at events during the conference itself, as this could have hindered the negotiations; instead Members opted to promote discussions around best practice in parliamentary scrutiny of climate change, and to recommence direct Government scrutiny once the negotiations had concluded.

The committees’ bid for events was an innovative attempt to raise the profile of national parliaments within the annual UNFCCC COPs, which are primarily a forum for intergovernmental decision-making. Substantive parliamentary engagement with the COPs intergovernmental processes has historically been excluded from the main venue, for example the COP-focussed parliamentary meetings of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and GLOBE International.

As national policies to address climate change begin to require deeper changes in national economies, there is increasing appetite from parliamentarians to scrutinise the international commitments behind these – many of which are made during or as a result of the COP process. COP28 saw a welcome shift in recognition of the role of parliamentarians, with the first-ever Parliamentary Pavilion hosted within the conference ‘blue zone’. The UK Government adopted a more inclusive approach, offering a small number of select committee members passes as part of the UK’s national delegation. The leader of the UK delegation (a former co-chair of GLOBE) was instrumental in pressing for greater access for parliamentarians, and recently told EAC that parliamentarians should be “properly accredited, represented and recognised within the COPs.[7]

Support for COP26 scrutiny across Parliament

Members’ scrutiny of COP26 was supported by strategic coordination amongst staff across the Commons and Lords Select Committees, the Library and the Parliamentary Office for Science (POST). For example:

This activity was supported by the informal staff Climate Network (a precursor to the Climate and Environment Hub), which also acted as a central contact point for liaison with Cabinet Office to streamline information flows, organised training seminars on COP26 with Government officials and external stakeholders, and helped to facilitate Member attendance at the conference including supporting briefing for Committee visits.

Wider teams also supported COP26-related business. For example the Lords Library produced briefing on COP26 and fielded reactive research enquiries from Members on the summit, and the Education and Engagement Team incorporated COP26 into UK Parliament Week, which ran concurrently with the conference.



[1] Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee, Net Zero and UN Climate Summits; Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), Preparation for COP26; Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC), Environmental Diplomacy; EU Sub-Committees, Climate Change and COP26

[2] BEIS Committee, Fourth Special Report of Session 2019–21, COP26: Principles and priorities—a POST survey of expert views, HC 1000, November 2020

[3] Letter to the COP26 President from the Chairs of the BEIS Committee, EAC, Science and Technology (S&T) Committee, FAC, International Development Committee (IDC), Treasury Committee, Transport Committee, Scottish Affairs Committee (SAC), Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee and Liaison Committee, 12 February 2021

[4] FAC, Seventh Report of Session 2019–21, A climate for ambition: Diplomatic preparations for COP26, HC202, April 2021; oral evidence taken by the FAC on 18 May 2021, HC (2021-22) 196; Treasury Committee, Thirteenth Report of Session 2019–21, Net zero and the Future of Green Finance, HC 147, April 2021; oral evidence taken by the Treasury Committee on 5 July 2021, HC (2021-22) 519

[5] Oral evidence taken by the BEIS Committee on 27 April 2021, HC (2019-21) 144; oral evidence taken by the BEIS Committee on 23 June 2021, HC (2021-22) 107; letter from the Chair of the BEIS Committee to the COP26 President, 22 July 2021

[6] The following committees supported the joint bid: BEIS Committee; EAC; S&T Committee; FAC; IDC; Treasury Committee; Transport Committee; SAC; Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee; International Trade Committee; Work and Pensions Committee; Commons Liaison Committee; Lords Science and Technology Committee; Lords Liaison Committee

[7] Oral evidence taken by the Environment Audit Committee on 31 January 2024, HC (2023-24) 512, Q51