Who is Alok Sharma? Career of the COP26 President - and why has he been criticised for quarantine-free travel?

The Climate minister has been branded as ‘hypocritical’ for flying to more than 30 nations in a short amount of time

Climate minister and COP26 President Alok Sharma has been heavily criticised for his recent “excessive” use of air travel - and his decision not to self isolate despite visiting 30 countries, six of which were on the UK red list.

It has been reported that Sharma has visited countries such as Brazil, Indonesia and Kenya during a time when international travel from the UK was mostly banned.

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The level of travel that Alok Sharma has undertaken recently has been branded as 'excessive' and 'hypocritical' (Photo: Justin Tallis - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Who is Alok Sharma?

Sharma is the full time President for COP26, the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference, and was appointed on 8 January 2021.

As the COP26 President, his responsibilities include leading preparations for the 26th UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties, and chairing the Climate Action Implementation Cabinet Committee to coordinate government action towards net zero by 2050.

Over the course of his Parliamentary career, Sharma has held titles such as Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Minister of State for Housing and Planning.

He has also served as a member of the Commons Treasury select committee, a member of the Commons Science and Technology select committee, a Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Treasury and from 2012 to 2015 as a Conservative Party Vice Chairman. In 2016, he was appointed as the Prime Minister’s Infrastructure Envoy to India.

Prior to pursuing a career in Parliament, Sharma qualified as a chartered accountant with Coopers & Lybrand Deloitte. He went on to work for 16 years within the field of banking, first with Nikko Securities and then Enskilda Securities.

Sharma is married and living in Reading Borough with his wife and two daughters.

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Where has Alok Sharma travelled to?

The Daily Mail has reported that Sharma has visited 30 nations over the past seven months, six of which were red list countries.

Sharma then used the exemption available to ministers to avoid having to quarantine upon his return to the UK.

It is believed that most of his travelling occurred during the winter and spring months at the beginning of 2021, when international travel from the UK was banned for the most part.

In March, Sharma visited India, Costa Rica, Qatar and the UAE, and in April travelled to the Far East. Not all trips saw Sharma return directly to the UK, as on some occasions he visited a group of countries in one journey.

The Daily Mail claimed that Sharma held a meeting with Prince Charles only days after returning from Bangladesh, a red list country, before visiting a primary school.

The meeting with Prince Charles was conducted indoors, and without masks.

What’s been said about his travel?

Speaking to LBC, Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy said: “That’s hugely worrying. I mean, the lack of self-isolation is bizarre and dangerous.

“And I think that it is probably impossible not to fly, of course, but I think he should be leading by example clearly.”

Lammy said that the reports of Sharma flying to 30 nations in seven months show that “it’s one rule for them and another rule for us”.

When asked on Sky News about the flights abroad and lack of self-isolation, Lammy said: “Well, the optics are very clear - it’s one rule for them and another rule for us, whether it’s Dominic Cummings, whether it’s Matt Hancock, whether it’s Alok Sharma.

“Of course some international travel is required, but this amount of international travel when you’re climate change minister feels to me bizarre, and feels to not be setting the example.”

First Minister Mark Drakeford said that Sharma travelling so much “undermines the effort” that people have to make.

He told Sky News: “I’m afraid I do think it really undermines the effort that we know everybody has to make.

“We’ve all got used to having meetings with people in different parts of the world without needing to travel around the world to do it.

“And when we’re trying to persuade people to make the changes they need to make, we need to make, in our daily lives, transport, in our own homes, in the way that we think about the contribution we can make, we need the people at the very top to be demonstrating that they are doing that too, not thinking that that is for other people to carry that burden.”

Green party peer Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb said that the trips were “excessive”, saying: “When you’re in charge of COP26, to take this many flights is hypocritical.”

What has the Government said?

A government spokesperson said: “Helping the world tackle the climate emergency is an international priority for the Government.

“Virtual meetings play a large part, however face to face meetings are key to success in the climate negotiations the UK is leading as hosts of COP26 and are crucial to understanding first hand the opportunities and challenges other countries are facing in the fight against climate change.”

The Government website states that travellers arriving in England from a country on the red list have to quarantine in a government approved hotel - unless a relevant department of the UK government has certified that you are not required to do so, and are:

- A Crown servant or government contractor travelling to the UK for essential government work or returning from such work outside the UK, or

- Returning from conducting essential state business outside of the UK, or

- Returning to the UK where this is necessary to facilitate the functioning of a diplomatic mission or consular post of Her Majesty or of a military/other official posting on behalf of her Her Majesty

What did Alok Sharma say about climate change?

The “excessive” travelling that Sharma has undertaken has been branded as especially hypocritical as, during a press conference last month, Sharma said that the heavy rain and flash flooding was “a sober reminder” of the urgent need to fix climate change.

Sharma said that “we all need to play our part” in taking steps to tackle the climate crisis.

According to the International Air Transport Association, commercial aviation is responsible “for about two to three per cent of global carbon emissions”.

The Guardian states that the travel to and from all the destinations that Sharma visited would amount to 200,000 miles, which is the equivalent of going around the world eight times.