Who is Alok Sharma? Career of COP26 president and what he’s said ahead of UN climate change conference

The COP26 President warned that the response of the G20 will be “make or break” for tackling climate change

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World leaders and representatives of the world’s nation’s will be arriving in Glasgow later this month to attend COP26.

This year will mark the 26th time the annual summit has been held, with the event bringing together heads of state, climate experts and campaigners to agree on steps that need to be taken to tackle climate change.

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The summit, which will take place at the SEC complex in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November, is the most important round of UN talks since the global Paris Agreement to address climate change was secured in two weeks of negotiations in the French capital in 2015.

COP26 President-Designate Alok Sharma has warned that world leaders must deliver on their promises to curb dangerous climate change at the UN COP26 talks and is calling for the Paris Agreement to be honoured, which committed countries to try to limit global temperature rises to 1.5C.

Here’s what you need to know about the COP26 President and what he’s said ahead of the summit.

Who is Alok Sharma?

Alok Sharma was appointed as full-time President for COP26 on 8 January 2021.

He was previously Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and COP26 President between 13 February 2020 and 8 January 2021.

From July 2019 to February 2020, Mr Sharma was Secretary of State for International Development, and before that, from January 2018 to July 2019 he was Minister of State for Employment.

He has also served as Minister of State for Housing and Planning from June 2017 to January 2018.

Mr Sharma has also served as a member of several committees, including the Commons Treasury select committee and a member of the Commons Science and Technology select committee.

From July 2016 to June 2017, he served as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and was a Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Treasury and from 2012 to 2015 as a Conservative Party Vice Chairman.

He also served as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Rt Hon Oliver Letwin MP, the former Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster who had overall responsibility for the Cabinet Office, and was elected as the Conservative MP for Reading West in May 2010.

Before entering Parliament, Mr Sharma qualified as a chartered accountant with Coopers & Lybrand Deloitte and spent 16 years working within banking, first with the Japanese firm Nikko Securities and later Enskilda Securities.

Mr Sharma lives in Reading Borough with his wife and two daughters.

What does his role as COP26 President involve?

As COP26 President, Mr Sharma is responsible for leading the preparations for the 26th United Nations Convention on climate change, which will be held in Glasgow next in early November.

He will also chair the Climate Action Implementation Cabinet Committee to coordinate government action towards net zero by 2050.

What has he said ahead of COP26?

Mr Sharma has said that action by G20 countries - who together account for 80% of global emissions - will be “make or break” for keeping the goal to limit global temperature rises to 1.5C within reach.

Speaking in Paris less than three weeks before the summit in Glasgow, the COP26 President warned that leaders of major economies, such as China, need to step up with a new climate plan.

During his speech he urged leaders to honour the Paris Agreement in 2015, which commits countries to keeping temperature rises to well below 2C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit them to 1.5C – beyond which the most dangerous climate impacts will be felt.

Current action and pledges leave the world well off track to meeting the target and avoiding the most dangerous heat waves, floods, damage to natural systems, rising sea levels and diseases that higher temperatures will bring.

Mr Sharma said: “If temperatures continue to rise we will step through a series of one-way doors, the end destination of which is climate catastrophe.

“The response of the G20 will quite simply be make, or break, for keeping 1.5 within reach.

“We know that we can only tackle climate change if every country plays its part. So I say to those G20 leaders, they simply must step up ahead of Cop26.”

At 1.5C of warming, 700 million people would be at risk of extreme heatwaves, while at 2C of warming it would be two billion. While the lower temperature rise would destroy 70% of the world’s coral reefs, they would all die at 2C.

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