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COP26 Presidency: Governance, Structure and Parliamentary Accountability

Volume 691: debated on Thursday 18 March 2021

Following the creation of a full-time COP26 President role, I wanted to update the House on the governance, structure and parliamentary accountability of the role.

COP26 is a UN conference hosted by the UK, in partnership with Italy, which will be held in Glasgow in November 2021. World leaders will attend the conference, with the aim to agree how to tackle the threat of global climate change and deliver a resilient, net zero economy that protects and values the natural world

The UK is a world leader on climate change. We were the first major economy to legislate for net zero by 2050. In November 2020, the Prime Minister set out our new nationally determined contribution, committing to reduce our emissions by at least 68% by 2030 on a 1990 baseline, and in December 2020 we published the UK’s first adaptation communication.

Ministerial team

The right hon. Lord Goldsmith, Minister for Pacific and the Environment, will be the COP26 spokesperson in the House of Lords. The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth, my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan), will also address COP26 questions in the House of Commons and is the UK international champion on adaptation and resilience for the COP26 presidency. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Katherine Fletcher) has been appointed as my Parliamentary Private Secretary.

Role of UN COP President

The COP President-designate is responsible within the UK for delivering the COP26 summit in Glasgow. Ahead of the summit I am engaging with the UNFCCC secretariat and the current COP President as they prepare the provisional negotiations agenda. I am working to increase ambition internationally, developing effective international relationships with countries, institutions, businesses and stakeholders to achieve the necessary commitments in advance of and at COP. I am regularly engaging with the members of the UNFCCC to understand their positions and work with them to reach consensus on the negotiations. I will continue my close engagement with a large number of civil society actors as we seek to deliver an inclusive COP.

With the will of all parties, I will formally become COP President during the opening ceremony of the Glasgow summit. At the summit, I will participate as COP President, under the authority of the COP and its 197 parties. I will lead the formal negotiations, preside over meetings and will facilitate proceedings in accordance with the COP’s draft rules of procedure. I will have oversight of the overall package of outcomes and will work closely with UNFCCC members to secure consensus. As COP President I will also lead the COP Bureau, which is an 11-member body that assists the President and supports the work of COP, for the duration of my term until COP27 in late 2022.

The Prime Minister has made the role full time and as a full member of the Cabinet. My Cabinet colleagues remain responsible for delivering on their respective policy responsibilities.

Delivering a successful outcome

At the Climate Ambition summit on 12 December 2020, I set out four clear objectives for the UK presidency.

To ask countries to commit to net zero by mid-century, building on the 70% of world GDP covered by net zero targets today. To set the path to this, countries are being asked to come forward with ambitious 2030 emissions reductions targets (known as NDCs) which align with net zero goals. We will also be looking to accelerate the phase-out of coal, encourage investment in renewables, halt fossil fuel subsidies and pick up the pace on electric vehicle roll out. All of these areas are critical to stop average global temperatures exceeding 1.5C.

To urgently protect and help adapt our communities and natural habitats from the destructive effects of climate change. This will involve enabling and encouraging countries affected by climate change to build defences, warning systems and resilient infrastructure to avoid loss of homes and livelihoods.

To increase funding to support these aims, making good on the $100 billion annual climate finance goal affirmed through the Paris agreement. We need to be in a position to unleash the trillions in private and public finance to meet global net zero.

To close off the outstanding elements of the Paris rulebook, and accelerate delivery of the Paris goals through collaboration between Governments, businesses and civil society.

We will deliver these objectives through a major international engagement programme. I have briefed all UN member states three times and have personally engaged with over 50 countries. In the last month I have visited Ethiopia, Gabon, Egypt, Nigeria, India, Nepal, Belgium and France, and have spoken to representatives from a wide range of other countries and organisations, including the United States and China and hosted virtual roundtables and engaged with civil society groups.

Parliamentary scrutiny and engagement

There will be regular oral questions, which commenced on 24 February. And written questions can be submitted to the COP26 President.

There will be full Select Committee scrutiny of the role. A BEIS Select Committee session was held on 19 January. The Chairs of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Environmental Audit, Science and Technology, Foreign Affairs, International Development, Treasury, Transport, Scottish Affairs, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Liaison Committees have come together informally as a “committee on COP26” which is an initiative I welcome and am committed to appearing in front of them alongside my ministerial colleagues, who will also be able to answer questions on their respective policy responsibilities.

My ministerial team and I will send a regular newsletter to colleagues in both Houses. I have agreed a programme of engagement activity with the chairs of the climate all-party parliamentary groups.

We will be providing a digital toolkit to Members in due course to support them to engage constituents in the Together for Our Planet campaign. We will also be working with partners to engage schools in COP26, including providing a tailored toolkit.

A range of opportunities are available for Members and their constituents to get involved at COP26 itself. These include hosting events, creative installations and exhibitions within UK Government managed spaces.

We also expect there will be a range of fringe events and activities across the city of Glasgow and throughout the UK organised by stakeholders, civil society organisations and businesses.

Domestic and devolved Administration engagement

We are working with the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive to ensure an inclusive and ambitious summit for the whole of the UK. All parts of the UK will have important roles to play in ensuring the summit’s success.

I have invited climate change Ministers from the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive to participate in a regular devolved Administrations group to ensure effective engagement and collaboration on COP26 in support of the delivery of an inclusive and welcoming COP26 representative of the whole of the UK.

I also chair the COP26 UK Mayors’ and Regions Advisory Council with mayors and council leaders from across the UK, including Glasgow, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. In addition to ongoing engagement with stakeholders across the UK, to ensure an inclusive, whole of society COP26, that is representative of all of the UK in Glasgow.

We have launched the Together for our Planet campaign which will raise awareness and understanding of COP26 and the work the UK is doing to combat climate change. The campaign aims to drive awareness and create opportunities for people across the UK to participate in the run-up to COP26.

COP Unit governance

The Prime Minister chairs the Climate Action Strategy Cabinet Committee (CAS), which determines the UK’s overarching climate strategy both domestically and internationally. I continue to chair the Climate Action Implementation Cabinet Committee (CAI), which supports the CAS to operationalise the Government’s climate strategy.

I am supported by the COP26 unit which has over 200 posts and is based in the Cabinet Office. The COP unit team brings together civil servants from across Whitehall and external expertise. International engagement, co-ordinated by the COP26 team in co-operation with the FCDO, takes place across all Departments and by all Ministers with an interest in the cross-cutting campaigns and our COP objectives, as well as by the Prime Minister.

As set out above, the regular processes are in place to ensure parliamentary scrutiny and support towards delivery of COP26.

Progress so far

Reducing emissions: countries representing around 65% of global CO2 emissions and around 70% of the world’s economy have now committed to reaching net zero emissions or carbon neutrality. When the UK took the role of incoming COP presidency in December 2019, coverage was just 20% of global emissions and 26% of world GDP. On 12 December, over 90 countries, businesses, sectors, cities, including 75 world leaders, attended the Climate Ambition summit, co-hosted with the UN and France in partnership with Italy and Chile. At the summit 45 leaders highlighted plans for new and more ambitious NDCs (covering 71 countries including all EU member states) and 24 countries announced new commitments, strategies or plans to reach net zero or carbon neutrality. The summit delivered real steps forward—for example Colombia committed to an impressive 51% emissions reduction target; and Pakistan announced a moratorium on new coal plants.

On helping protect communities and natural habitats from the impact of climate change: at the CAS, 20 countries put forward plans for protecting their economies and communities from the impact of climate change. On 25 January we launched the Adaptation Action Coalition to bring together countries to identify the solutions, technologies and resources needed to protect people and nature as the planet warms. Action on nature is at the heart of our COP presidency. At the UN General Assembly in September 2020 the Prime Minister signed the leaders’ pledge for nature committing leaders to take 10 urgent actions to put nature on a path to recovery by 2030. The UK played a key role in pioneering and negotiating the pledge, and which now has over 80 countries signed up. On 2 February 2021 we launched the forest, agriculture and commodity trade (FACT) dialogue, which will bring together key countries exporting agricultural products and the countries consuming these products to agree global principles and a roadmap of actions to make global supply chains process greener and more sustainable, tackling one of the primary drivers of nature loss.

On increasing climate finance: there is an urgent need to get more finance flowing to support swift climate action. Developed countries must meet and surpass the $100 billion of climate finance commitment, matching UK ambition to double UK ICF to at least £11.6 billion between 2021 and 2025. Private finance is also key. So far we have seen major asset owners, representing over $5 trillion, and asset managers, representing over $9 trillion, commit to net zero targets by 2050. Climate-related financial disclosures are increasing and jurisdictions in Brazil, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Switzerland are taking action to make disclosure mandatory, complementing the UK’s announcement for a pathway to mandatory disclosure across the economy by 2025.

On making progress on the outstanding elements of the Paris rulebook, and accelerating delivery of the Paris goals: we have been convening UNFCCC members in discussions to lay the groundwork for the negotiations, and we will be hosting, alongside Chile, a series of monthly multilateral consultations. More broadly, we have built partnerships to increase international collaboration on key issues, establishing the Energy Transition Council and Zero Emissions Vehicles Transition Council, as well as working through existing coalitions: the Powering Past Coal Alliance has grown to 114 members covering 20% of OECD coal power capacity.

I look forward to engaging with you and continuing to update you over the coming months on the road to COP26.