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Alok Sharma to work full-time on preparation for COP26 climate conference

Published January 20, 2021

Alok Sharma to work full-time on preparation for COP26 climate conference

The UK’s business secretary, Alok Sharma, is to work full-time on preparations for the UN climate conference in Glasgow this November. Kwasi Kwarteng will take over his business brief.  

According to the Guardian, the change was “urged by environmental experts given the scale of the role.” The UK government says COP26 will be the largest summit the UK has ever hosted. The conference will attempt to set new international targets for carbon emission reductions, building on previous commitments at the Paris meeting in 2016. 

For the past 11 months, Sharma has combined being COP26 president with his job as business secretary. Kwarteng is currently the number two minister in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who was international development secretary until her department was merged with the Foreign Office in September, takes this job. 

Critics had argued Sharma would struggle to fulfil the COP26 role while he was business secretary, because preparing for it would involve large amounts of international travel. Climate change experts had urged Johnson to make Sharma’s COP role full-time, including former energy and climate secretary Amber Rudd.  

Shortly after Ashok’s initial appointment, a think-tank, the Institute for Government said: “One of the most time-consuming activities of the COP president is international diplomacy. The role is as much about negotiating with other countries as about events organisation. Sharma has some profile from his role as international development secretary, and has been a junior Foreign Office minister – but he was in neither role for more than a year. On this alone he lacks the international standing of previous COP presidents, who include former prime ministers and foreign secretaries.” 

When France hosted COP21 in Paris, the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, was the president, while an economist and diplomat, Laurence Tubiana, was appointed as the talks’ ‘climate change ambassador and special representative’. The latter took responsibility for much of the diplomatic groundwork in the run-up to the conference.  

COP26, which is expected to gather representatives from nearly 200 countries, was scheduled for last November, but was delayed for a year because of Covid.