Alok Sharma: COP26 is for ordinary people, not just climate warriors

The man in charge of ensuring a successful climate change conference in Glasgow claims he is not an environmentalist, but he has become persuaded of the importance of addressing global warming.
"Turning Point for Humanity"
“I’m a normal person, right, I’m not someone who’s some great climate warrior coming into this,” says Alok Sharma, the COP26 meeting’s president, who began office in February 2020. “But it has given me a real appreciation and understanding of why it is so vital that we get this right.”

Sharma claims that public awareness is growing, citing a recent conversation with a nurse doing a regular covid-19 test as an example. “She said ‘thank you for what you said about taking care of the climate yesterday on the news’. This is resonating with ordinary people like me, who weren’t focused on this necessarily. We have to get this right, for our generation and future generations.”

His employer, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, shares this viewpoint. “I am not one of those environmentalists who takes moral pleasure in excoriating humanity for its excess,” Johnson said in a speech to the UN General Assembly on September 22, in which he urged the world to “grow up” on climate change and said the COP26 summit in Glasgow, UK, this November will be a “turning point” for humanity.
The Paris Agreement and COP26
Since 2015, when the world adopted the Paris Agreement to keep global warming to 2.7°f at best and far below 3.6°f at worst, COP26 is regarded as the most significant international climate gathering.
A hundred international leaders have confirmed their attendance at the Glasgow summit, making it the UK’s greatest political gathering ever. Sharma expects the number to rise, while major actors such as Chinese President Xi Jinping have yet to confirm their attendance. He states, “Of course, we want to see as many [heads of state] as possible.” President of the United States, Joe Biden, has confirmed his attendance, as have other high-profile personalities such as Pope Francis.
When Sharma visited China earlier this month, he claims he had extremely constructive but honest conversations with China’s senior climate ambassador, Xie Zhenhua. “I said it’s good to get these commitments from the president, what we now need to see is the detailed policy. I hope some of that may come forward before COP – the ball is very much in China’s court.”
Despite a recent UN analysis showing that global emissions are likely to increase by 2030 rather than almost halve as necessary to attain the temperature goal, Sharma believes the summit can keep the 2.7°f/1.5°C objective in reach.
“I think keeping 1.5°C alive has to absolutely be the aim,” he argues. “[But] the UN report was pretty sobering.” However, there were some bright spots, according to him: some nations are on track to cut emissions by more than a tenth by 2030, and several of the world’s top polluters have yet to provide an updated emissions reduction plan, leaving the door open for additional action before COP26.
“If all the biggest emitters were to follow suit, we would make a big dent on where we need to be by the end of this decade,” he claims. It would be crucial for G20 countries to follow through on their pledge of more ambitious goals made in July, he says. India is one of the countries that has yet to submit one.
Prime Minister "committed to making conference a success."
While Sharma won’t disclose which nations Johnson will visit in the weeks leading up to COP26, he says the prime minister is committed to making the conference a success. “What I can tell you is he’s been invested in this process in the calls he’s had bilaterally with world leaders.” Sharma adds.
Sharma also wants rich countries to follow through on a pledge made 12 years ago to provide $100 billion per year in climate funding to developing countries by 2020. In 2019, these funds were still $20 billion short, but the numbers are improving — last week, US President Joe Biden proposed a doubling of the country’s climate financing, to $11.4 billion per year, which Sharma believes is a significant step forward.
Sharma states “This $100 billion figure has become absolutely a matter of trust in politics, but particularly in climate politics. Trust is pretty fragile. We need to rebuild this trust if we’re going to get everyone on the same page.”
In the last year, the minister has visited dozens of nations to drum up support for the climate meeting. One of the most emotional events for him was a visit to the Caribbean island of Barbuda in July, when he observed the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma in 2017.

He adds “The place is still devastated, literally it felt like a hurricane came in a few weeks ago. It’s been really very, very challenging for them. You’ve seen migration take place. This is one of the challenges with climate change: as things get worse, migration is going to become a real issue.”
Because of the changing environment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that migration will increase this century.

A delegate from another small island state informed Sharma that climate change would mean they would soon be without a home. “It is as stark as that for millions and millions of people around the world,” he adds.

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