‘We are counting on countries like Switzerland’
COP26 President Alok Sharma wants more action to cap climate change at below 2°C. The British MP says he is depending on Switzerland – a “very active country in negotiations” – to find joint solutions.
We know what we need to do, because we’ve already agreed what we’re aiming for. In 2015, the world signed the Paris Agreement, an international deal to tackle the climate crisis. That Agreement commits us to limit global temperature increases to well below two degrees, aiming for 1.5 degrees, because science tells us that would avoid the worst effects of climate change.
Every fraction of a degree makes a difference. An average global temperature rise of two degrees, compared to 1.5, would see hundreds of millions more people affected, and twice as many plant and three times as many insect species losing vast swathes of their habitat. This is of particular importance for Switzerland, an Alpine country where temperatures are rising twice as quickly as the global average.
However, since the 1.5 degree target was set, the world has not done nearly enough and our planet is heating up. In my role as COP26 President Designate, I have witnessed the impact firsthand: melting glaciers, crop degradation, villagers forced from their homes. If we continue as we are, these effects will get worse, and fast.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report said Earth is likely to reach the crucial 1.5 degrees limit in the early 2030s, unless we make deep cuts to CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decades. Climate change and its consequences are already being felt. Any increase beyond 1.5 degrees means the situation is likely to rapidly deteriorate. This is now the decisive decade for us to act. We must act now, to launch a consistent and concerted effort to reduce emissions throughout the next ten years. And we must use the Covid-19 recovery to reimagine our economies, building a better future, one with green jobs and cleaner air, increasing prosperity without harming the planet.
This is what makes this United Nations climate conference in Glasgow – COP26 – so critical. It must be the moment where every country, and every part of society, embraces their responsibility to protect our precious planet and to keep the 1.5 degree target alive. And we have a clear plan to get there.
Four key goals
As COP26 President Designate, alongside the Prime Minister, fellow ministers and the whole of the UK’s diplomatic network, I am pressing for action around four key goals.
First, we must put the world on a path to driving down emissions, until they reach net zero by the middle of this century. This is imperative to keeping the 1.5 degree target within reach. So we need countries to come forward with clear targets to reduce emissions. This means near-term 2030 emissions reductions targets consistent with net zero by the middle of the century. And these targets must be based on science, so that net zero is not just a vague aspiration but a concrete plan.
We also need to see action in the most polluting sectors. If we are serious about 1.5 degrees, Glasgow must be the COP that consigns coal power to history, calls time on deforestation and signals the end of polluting vehicles. So we are working with governments and through international organisations to end international coal financing, a personal priority of mine. We are urging countries to abandon coal power, and we are working with developing countries to support their transition to clean energy.
We are seeing real progress. I was delighted to co-chair the G7 Climate and Environment Ministers meeting in July where we delivered a historic agreement that no G7 nation would finance any more coal projects internationally. At the UN General Assembly in September, China followed suit and committed to stop building new coal projects. I expect that at COP26 we will see further commitments on coal, cars, methane and deforestation.
To keep driving that ambition to 2030, we must also finalise the Paris Rulebook. This must be resolved if we are to unleash the full power of the Paris Agreement. The outstanding issues have been discussed for years without resolution. I am grateful for the consultations conducted by Rwandan minister Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya and Swiss minister Simonetta Sommaruga on Common Time Frames. We saw progress in these and other areas, but there is still work to do to achieve full consensus.
Our second goal is to protect people and nature from the worst effects of climate change. The climate crisis is already with us and we must act on the very real need for flood defences, warning systems and other vital efforts to minimise, avert and address the loss and damage caused by climate change.
Our third goal is finance, without which the task ahead is near impossible. This week, the UK COP Presidency published a Climate Finance Delivery Plan to provide clarity on when and how developed countries will meet the $100 billion (CHF91.15 billion) climate finance goal to support developing countries fight climate change and adapt to its impacts. The UK is leading by example, having committed £11.6 billion (CHF14.56 billion) between 2021 and 2025. And under the UK Presidency, every G7 nation has committed to do more towards the $100 billion. But we need all developed countries to step up. It is a matter of trust.
The Paris Agreement set us on a path to transform global financial flows to deliver a green and sustainable economy. So, as well as delivering public finance, we need to unleash trillions of dollars of private finance to transition to a greener world. Following recommendations by the G20-mandated Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), Switzerland has passed valuable legislation implementing TCFDs by 2024. This legislation will compel large Swiss firms to report climate-related risks, and Switzerland has published guidelines on which companies and which risks will be involved.
Fourth, we must work together to achieve these goals. That means building consensus among governments, so that the negotiations in Glasgow are a success. It also means bringing businesses and civil society on board, and building up international collaboration in critical sectors. We will take an inclusive approach to reach this goal and count on countries like Switzerland, who are very active in these negotiations as chair of a negotiation group, to find solutions with strong support.
I call on all countries to step up efforts on these goals, because COP26 is our last hope of keeping the 1.5 degree target alive, our best chance of building a brighter future – a future of green jobs and cleaner air. As my childhood hero, and our COP26 President’s Advocate, Sir David Attenborough has said: “The moment of crisis has come… The future of humanity, and indeed all life on earth, depends on us.”
This is our moment. There are no second chances. Let’s seize it together.
British politician Alok Sharma has been a Conservative Party MP since 2010. In January 2021 he stepped aside from his role as Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy after being appointed full-time President Designate for COP26.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of SWI swissinfo.ch.