‘Keir Starmer should hold Sharma to account and ask him to update both Parliament and the public on progress made between this COP and the next.’
Mike Buckley is Director of CampaignCentral and Host of the Labour for a European Future podcast
COP27 will take place in Egypt, but UN rules dictate that the UK remains the head of the process. Alok Sharma will continue to be the head of COP26 for a further year.
COP26 was a mixed success. To a large extent, its conclusions reflected the IPCC SR1.5 results and the IEA Net Zero report. These reports mandated an acceleration in action and new planning by 2022 within the context of the UN voluntary, non-binding regime.
The first time that a commitment was made was to reduce fossil fuel consumption. The language was diluted at the last moment to say that we must abandon fossil fuels if there is any hope of limiting temperature increases to 1.5C.
Major emitters must present plans within 12 months
One of the summit’s most important decisions was to mandate major emitters to return in 12 months and explain how their plans are aligned to the Paris temperature goals.
The next 12 months are crucial. Scientists agree that global emissions must be reduced by 45% by 2030 to maintain 1.5C. That’s a huge ask. Now is the time to take action.
Alok Sharma is bullish about the impact of this year’s summit. “All parties can be proud,” of the outcome, he wrote, arguing that “for the first time it commits to a plan to move away from coal power and inefficient fossil-fuel subsidies” and “finalised the Paris rulebook” on issues including carbon trading and transparency.
Sharma acknowledges that there is more work to be done
Sharma is open and honest enough to admit that there is more work to be done. His work as COP26 president is “only just beginning”, he says, pledging to work with countries over the next year to “take action and honour their promises”.
Sharma’s continued presidency gives him and us the chance to have an outsized impact on the climate crisis. Sharma has the opportunity to work with other governments to get the significantly higher pledges required for 1.5C to remain within reach.
The UK can set the agenda for COP27
It allows campaigners and opposition parties in Britain to argue for change at home and abroad and to influence the agenda for COP27.
Sharma seems resolute in his views on the magnitude of emissions cuts required by 2030, but he speaks less about the need to take action on climate finance. This is one of the most damaging failures of the summit.
“COP26 failed those most impacted by the climate crisis now,” says Ed King, climate specialist at the Global Strategic Communications Council.
“The EU and US refused to create a fund that the poorest countries could draw on for crisis response,” he says. At COP26, developing countries demanded a clear plan to establish a loss- and damage funding facility.
This was not the case, and Egypt will be the focus next year. African nations already spend up to 10% of GDP a year on adaptation, while climate impacts could deliver a 20% hit to GDP in poor nations by 2050, say Christian Aid.
Sharma and the UK Government “have to lean in over the next 12 months” says Katie WhiteExecutive Director of Advocacy and Campaigns, WWF.
“The UK Presidency has run with making 1.5C [above pre-industrial temperatures] the anchor,” she told the world’s press as COP26 drew to a close. “That’s a good thing. The UK Presidency needs to be strong for the next 12 month. They must listen to the most vulnerable voices in this room. They’ll have to do more on loss and damage.”
There are limits to what Sharma and the UK could achieve
There are limits to the potential achievements of Sharma and the UK. Pressure on recalcitrant nations is highest at global COP summits – only there are they under constant media scrutiny, their commitments and actions ruthlessly compared to those of peers.
Yet the Paris COP in 2015 proved that shuttle diplomacy in the run up to summits could bear dividends. The credibility, patience, and tactfulness of Laurent FabiusThe landmark agreement reached in that year’s French negotiations was credited to François, the French lead negotiator.
A chance for Labour
The coming year is also an opportunity for the Labour Party. Global conferences do not allow opposition parties much chance to shine. Media attention is focused on the global picture and actions and words of those at power, and not on opposition parties.
But Labour can build its own credibility and push for more global ambition by maintaining pressure on Sharma over the next year. Keir Starmer and colleagues should hold Sharma to account and ask him to update both Parliament and the public on progress made between this COP and the next, particularly on issues of pressing concern such as emissions pledges, finance for adaptation, loss and damage in the global south.
Labour should also continue to hold the government accountable for the difference between its fine statements and actions that could jeopardize the chances of sticking to the 1.5C threshold.
Most obviously, while Sharma, Boris Johnson and others made much of their desire to ‘keep 1.5C alive’ in Glasgow, in the process calling on other nations to end the fossil fuel era, the government has plans for at least 40 new British fossil fuel projects. It is also investing in fossil fuel projects around the world.
If approved, the 40 domestic projects alone could emit 1.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, according to analysis by Friends of the Earth and the New Economics Foundation. Rishi Sunak’s decision to cut aid spending shortly before COP26 also damaged Britain’s reputation and made Sharma’s job harder.
As integrity and ethics in politics again take centre stage following revelations over second jobs, Starmer and colleagues should call out the government’s double standards. Forcing the cancellation of even some of these projects would help the UK meet its climate commitments, and would strengthen Sharma’s ability to negotiate with other nations.
‘Green New Deal’ and ‘Green Industrial Revolution’ fail to resonate with the public
Labour should also establish its own climate policy in simple and tangible terms. Research has shown that buzzwords beloved of the left such as ‘Green New Deal’ and ‘Green Industrial Revolution’ fall flat with the public. So do big numbers – hence Rachel Reeves’ announcement of £28bn annual investment to combat climate change, made at Labour conference, is all but forgotten.
Instead, Labour should focus on explaining the challenge ahead of us to a public that by and large want to take action but do not know how. They should explain what they would do in government, how they would go further than the Conservatives, and how they would create jobs, reduce inequality, and improve transport and energy networks.
There is an opportunity for Labour to take Boris Johnson’s frequent claim that Britain is a ‘world leader’ and, on this most important of issues, making it their own.
In the meantime, they should call for Sharma to do all he can ahead of COP27, and where they can build alliances on climate action with other centre left leaders: Joe Biden in the US, Olaf Scholz in Germany, and Mario Draghi in Italy, among others.
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