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Alok Sharma lands joint role as Business Secretary and COP26 President

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Former International Development Secretary set to have a major hand in delivering net zero as well asUK’s preparations for the global UN climate summit in Glasgow later this year

Alok Sharma has been appointed both Business Secretary and COP26 President, giving him a critical and hugely demanding role driving the government’s net zero agenda and leading the UK’s preparations for co-hosting the crucial UN climate change summit in Glasgow later this year

Number 10 announced this morning that Sharma would move from his role as International Development Secretary to become Business Secretary and would also be “Minister for COP26”. A spokesperson quickly clarified that meant he would  become the new COP26 President, replacing former minister Claire O’Neill, who was acrimoniously sacked as COP26 President late last month.

The appointment of Sharma, who backed remain in the 2016 Brexit referendum and has been a staunch supporter of Heathrow Airport expansion, came as a surprise to many environmental campaigners, following days of speculation that Michael Gove and Zac Goldsmith were favourites for the high profile role. The hunt for a new President had been complicated after former Prime Minister David Cameron and former Foreign Secretary William Hague turned down an offer from the Prime Minister for them to take up the post. 

However, the appointment received a relatively warm welcome from campaigners, who noted that Sharma has some diplomatic experience having served as International Development Secretary since last summer and having previously worked as a junior Foreign Office Minister.

His predecessor in the COP post, Claire O’Neill, tweeted that “Alok is a very good person who I am sure will get to grips quickly with the challenge and I will do anything I can to make COP26 a success”.

But observers were also quick to note that Sharma now faces a daunting in-tray following a turbulent fortnight in the wake of O’Neill’s sacking and an escalating row between the UK and SCottish governments over planning for the Summit.

Helen Clarkson, CEO of the international non-profit The Climate Group, said it was “great news that a new COP President has been appointed”, but she also sounded a note of caution about the need for the government to ensure Sharma has the resources necessary to deliver a successful summit. “The role requires extensive diplomatic skill, as well as time and resources,” she said. “It is not too late to make COP26 a success, but the window for that is closing”.

Her comments were echoed by global climate lead at Christian Aid, Kat Kramer, who said Sharma “taking on the delicate and grave task of ensuring these crucial talks succeed”.

“It would have been a big task had Aloka Sharma been in post from the beginning, rather than coming in late in the process,” she added. “It’s now vital they work very closely with the backing of the Prime Minister to both get other countries to commit to new pledges to tackle the climate crisis but also put the UK’s own house in order and enact policies to accelerate UK decarbonisation. As Secretary of State for BEIS, Sharma will be well placed to oversee this.”

As he steps up to lead the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Sharma will also have responsibility for delivering a host of policies and targets to build a net zero economy in line with the UK’s statutory 2050 target, with existing policies currently falling short of what is required to meet the UK’s carbon budgets later in the 2020s.

The long-awaited Energy White Paper will be one of many issues at the top of his in-tray, with his predecessor Andrea Leadsom previously indicating a wide ranging policy package was on track to be unveiled soon. It is expected to include a raft of much-needed measures in support of low carbon heating, renewable electricity, home energy efficiency, and technologies such as nuclear power and Carbon Capture Utilistation and Storage (CCUS).

Sharma will also be expected to work closely with the new Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak on delivering a green budget in support of the net zero transition, after the latter took on the top job at the Treasury in the wake of Sajid Javid’s shock resignation earlier today

However, the dual role for Sharma will inevitably fuel accusations from policital opponents that the government is not dedicating sufficient Ministerial resource to the Summit and risks seeing preparations further undermined as the Business department also continues to play a critical role in Brexit no deal planning and wider issues. Labour’s Clive Lewis also questioned Sharma’s track record on climate issues, tweeting that “Alok Sharma has an abysmal voting record on all things climate. This Government’s blatant disregard for tackling the biggest issue of our time is galling”.

But supporters of Sharma will note that as International Development Secretary he last autumn urged the World Bank to channel more money towards tackling the climate crisis, building sustainable economies and promoting women’s rights. He also only yesterday tweeted about how UK aid was helping to enhance climate and flood resilience in Mozambique.

In other green reshuffle news, Number 10 confirmed Liz Truss is to remain as Trade Secretary and Anne-Marie Trevelyan was announced as Sharma’s replacement as International Development Secretary. However, it remains to be seen who fills the newly vacant posts of Environment Secretary, Transport Minister, Science and Universities Minister, and Housing Minister. 

Source: – Business Green
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