The President of COP26 today dampened hopes of a major climate change breakthrough at the summit as he said it is going to be ‘really, really tough’ for world leaders to strike a deal.
Alok Sharma said there are now two weeks to get an agreement ‘over the line’ as thousands of delegates from across the globe arrive in Glasgow for the gathering.
The main aim of the UN summit is to persuade countries to agree to take action to restrict global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees.
Mr Sharma said he is ‘driving towards’ achieving that goal but did not give a guarantee that the summit will end in success.
He urged world leaders to ‘leave the ghosts of the past’ behind them as he said ‘they have to deliver’ on the promises they have made to cut harmful emissions.
It came as Jose Manuel Barroso, the former European Commission president, expressed concerns over the level of international cooperation on tackling climate change.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping are both snubbing the COP26 summit and will not be attending in person.
Mr Barroso said it ‘makes sense’ for all of the world’s major players to work together for ‘global public goods’.
But comparing the current situation to that of the 2008 financial crash, he said: ‘I can tell you from experience that today’s atmosphere, the political understanding and level of cooperation, is clearly below what was before when we saw the financial crisis.’
Alok Sharma today dampened hopes of a major climate change breakthrough at the COP26 summit in Glasgow
World leaders are due to meet in the city to try to hammer out a deal to reduce harmful emissions and limit global warming to 1.5 degrees
Downing Street said COP26 will be one of the biggest events the UK has ever hosted, with 25,000 delegates expected from 196 countries and the European Union.
Ministers, climate negotiators, civil society and business leaders are set to take part in talks and debates over the course of the two-week conference.
Boris Johnson said last week it will be ‘touch and go’ if the gathering will be a success having previously been bullish on the chances of a breakthrough.
Last night the Prime Minister said the summit will be the ‘world’s moment of truth’.
Told that countries have failed to deliver on the climate change commitments they made in the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement, Mr Sharma said: ‘Well, you are right, this is on world leaders at the end of the day and they made the commitments in Paris that we would limit temperature rises to well below two degrees, pursuing efforts to 1.5 and now in Glasgow they have to deliver.
‘We have got the G20 ongoing right now and those world leaders will arrive here tomorrow for the world leaders’ summit and my message to them is very clear: Leave the ghosts of the past behind you, it is Halloween today after all, but leave the ghosts of the past behind you and let’s focus on the future and unite around this one issue that we know matters for all of us which is protecting our precious planet.’
Told that Mr Johnson appeared to have changed his tone on the likelihood of success at the summit, Mr Sharma said: ‘The Prime Minister is absolutely right, it is going to be really, really tough at this summit.
‘We have got two weeks to get this over the line. But he was also making the point that when we took on the presidency of COP26 less than 30 per cent of the global economy was covered by a net zero target.
‘We are now at over 80 per cent, almost all the G20 nations that we are talking about have got a net zero target for the middle of the century.’
Asked directly if a deal will be done at the summit, Mr Sharma was non-committal in his response.
He told Sky News: ‘That is what I am driving towards and I think what I have always said is that what we need to come from out of Glasgow is to be able to say with credibility that we have kept 1.5 alive.’
Mr Sharma was then asked three times during an interview on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show if a deal will be done in Glasgow.
He replied: ‘As you said in your introduction, my job is effectively to act as shepherd in chief. This is on leaders.
‘It was leaders who made the commitment in Paris. It is leaders of the biggest economies meeting now at the G20 and they need to come forward and collectively we need to agree how we are going to address this gap.’
Mr Sharma said he expected COP26 to be ‘in many ways tougher than Paris’ because the 2015 pact was a ‘framework agreement’ and ‘some of the most difficult rules are still outstanding after six years’.
‘That makes it really challenging and, of course, we know that the geopolitics is more difficult than it was at the time of Paris,’ he said.
COP26 suffered a blow last week after President Putin and President Xi confirmed they are not attending in person.
China has faced criticism over its climate plans in recent days after Beijing restated its old aims on emissions without setting out any new ambitions.
Asked if China and Russia need to do more, Mr Sharma said: ‘I want more out of every country but I think the point here is that we have made progress and then we are going to have to take stock about where there is a gap in what the commitments are and where we need to be.’
Mr Johnson will arrive in Glasgow this evening following a trip to Rome, Italy, to attend a meeting of the G20.
He expressed concerns last week that the climate change summit could ‘go wrong’ and end in failure.
He said: ‘We need as many people as possible to agree go to net zero so that they are not producing too much carbon dioxide by the middle of the century.
‘Now, I think it can be done. It’s going to be very, very tough, this summit.
‘And I’m very worried, because it might go wrong and we might not get the agreements that we need. It’s touch and go.’
Mr Johnson said in comments released last night that he hopes world leaders will arrive in Glasgow ready to agree ‘decisive action’.
Boris Johnson said last week it will be ‘touch and go’ if the gathering will be a success having previously been bullish on the chances of a breakthrough
He said: ‘Cop26 will be the world’s moment of truth. The question everyone is asking is whether we seize this moment or let it slip away.
‘I hope world leaders will hear them and come to Glasgow ready to answer them with decisive action.
‘Together, we can mark the beginning of the end of climate change – and end the uncertainty once and for all.’
It was claimed earlier this month that Mr Sharma was angry at Mr Johnson for building up expectations ahead of the summit amid Cabinet fears it will be a ‘damp squib’.
Mr Sharma was said to be ‘raging’ at the PM for ‘ramping up’ hopes of a breakthrough in Glasgow.
Some ministers believe the Government’s messaging ahead of the summit has been too bullish and is ‘completely out of control’. Allies of Mr Sharma denied that he was angry with the PM.