‘Stark warnings keep coming’, says Sharma as he urges faster action on climate

The “stark warnings keep coming” on climate change, Cop26 President Alok Sharma has said as he warned that much faster action was needed to tackle the crisis.

Speaking ahead of Cop27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, the UK’s lead on climate said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had reduced the focus on climate change this year but that countries “need to be able to do more than one thing at a time”.

But while the conflict had led to an immediate-term increase in the use of fossil fuels, “it has also made countries realise that climate and environmental security is entirely intertwined with energy and national security”.

“That’s why you’re seeing a big acceleration on homegrown green energy in many countries, and the UK is pushing forward on that as well,” he said.

At the close of last year’s Cop26 summit in Glasgow, Mr Sharma, president of the talks, said the goal to limit global temperature rises to 1.5C to avoid the worst impacts of climate change was alive but that its “pulse is weak” and would only survive with rapid action.

In the face of last week’s warning from the UN that, based on countries’ current climate action pledges, there was no credible pathway in place to the 1.5C limit, Mr Sharma said: “There is no doubt that the window is closing fast.

“But I do believe that if countries deliver on the commitments that they’ve made, then we will get there.”

Mr Sharma also said he was “delighted” Rishi Sunak was attending Cop27, after the Prime Minister reversed a decision to skip the conference.

“The Prime Minister going sends a very clear signal that the UK is still right there, at the front line, on the fight against climate change,” he told the PA news agency.

Mr Sharma also pointed to the U-turn on fracking made by the new Prime Minister as evidence of his green credentials.

But the UK Government is facing criticism over its decision to grant new North Sea oil and gas licences, despite warnings that there can be no new fossil fuel exploration if the world is to keep to the 1.5C limit.

Mr Sharma said, “I think that it’s the case for any policy the UK Government or any other government puts out, we need to see how that is compatible with the legally binding commitments that we have” to cut emissions to net zero by 2050 and targets to cut carbon on the way to that goal.

On the international stage, he acknowledged that the geopolitics had become much more difficult this year, as a result of the war in Ukraine, and that would spill over into other multilateral discussions such as on climate.

And he said: “The headwinds that have been created this year, and the fact that countries have had to focus on those immediate issues of energy security, food security, rising debt levels, rising inflation, has meant there hasn’t been as much of a focus on climate as one would have hoped and liked.”

Progress had been made, he suggested, with countries including some G20 nations – collectively responsible for 80% of global emissions – such as the UK, India and Australia, bringing forward new, improved or more detailed plans to tackle the crisis.

And Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s victory in the Brazilian presidential election was good news, if he followed through on commitments to protect the Amazon rainforest, Mr Sharma said.

But he warned: “The stark warnings keep coming, in terms of climate change.

“We’ve got a third of Pakistan under water, terrible floods in Nigeria.

“This year, we’ve had the worst drought in Europe for 500 years, the worst drought in the US for over 1,000 years, the worst drought in China ever.”

And the UK had not been immune, with heatwaves in the summer, he said.

“So the chronic threat of climate change is getting worse. And that’s why we need much more progress going into and at Cop27.”

Progress was needed on delivering finance for poorer nations to tackle climate change, including adapting to the impacts already being felt, and on addressing the loss and damage that could not be adapted to, as well as a continued push to cut emissions.

Governments needed to deliver on the commitments they had made, he urged.

Amid concerns about Egypt’s approach to climate protesters at the Cop27 summit, Mr Sharma said he had been clear in his discussions with Egyptian colleagues that the voice of civil society was vitally important to the process.

“The ability to protest is almost effectively enshrined, in the sense that we have that at every Cop and I think the Egyptian government does understand this,” he said

Quizzed about his thoughts on the climate fight at the end of his tenure as Cop26 President, which comes to a close with the start of Cop27, he said he was hopeful, particularly as clean technologies were being deployed at pace.

“The key issue for me is going further and faster and making sure we are getting more finance as well – public money but, really importantly, private money – into climate action.

“The dividends here are, of course, for the environment in terms of getting this right, but there is also a big economic dividend in terms of the push to net zero, in terms of millions of green jobs across the world.”

He said it was starting to happen, but added: “We just need to go at much faster pace across the world.”