Biden presidency is ‘good news’ for climate, Cop26 talks president says

A Biden presidency is “good news” for tackling climate change, Alok Sharma, who is heading up crucial international talks in Glasgow, has said.

Mr Sharma, who has left his role as Business Secretary to be full time president of the UN Cop26 summit taking place in November, said he welcomed the commitments President-elect Joe Biden has made on climate.

Mr Biden, who is inaugurated on Wednesday, has pledged to bring the US back into the international Paris Agreement on climate change, which outgoing president Donald Trump quit, and for the country to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

Mr Sharma said the international community would be keen to see the detail of the US’s national action plan for cutting emissions, which they have to submit as part of the Paris Agreement.

“A Biden presidency is good news in terms of tackling climate change, I very much welcome the commitments the president-elect has already made in terms of rejoining the Paris Agreement and putting the US on the path to net zero by 2050,” he added.

He told MPs on the parliamentary Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee: “I’m very positive about the commitments made during the presidential election and we are looking forward to working closely with the new administration.”

He said there were strict limits on the incoming administration talking to foreign governments before taking power, but said Prime Minister Boris Johnson had already had an introductory call with Mr Biden, and the UK had been talking to climate policy experts and those close to the new team.

On global action, Mr Sharma said an online global summit co-hosted by the UK in December had brought forward new net zero commitments and national action plans from countries.

But in order to meet the goal to keep global warming to below 2C or 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, as set out in the Paris Agreement, a lot more progress was needed in the next year.

Mr Sharma said he wanted the Cop26 talks to deliver on a step change in emissions cuts, adaptation efforts, getting finance flowing to developing countries and ensuring international co-operation.

Alok Sharma
Alok Sharma

He also said he wanted the summit to be the most inclusive ever, including using what has been learnt over the past year about virtual technology to extend the access to Cop26.

Mr Sharma also suggested the Westminster parliamentary November recess could overlap with the Cop26 summit to give MPs opportunity to go to the climate talks.

And he said he wanted the public involved, saying: “What we do not want Cop to be is seen as something where a whole bunch of world leaders fly in and fly out with no connection to the lives of people in the UK and indeed around the world.”

He said there was a clear intention for the main conference – which was delayed from last November due to the coronavirus pandemic – to be an “in-person” summit, as countries around the world felt there was a need for negotiations conducted in person, particularly those most affected by climate change.

He pointed to good news on vaccines and rapid testing, and said his team was in touch with the UN climate body, on whose behalf the UK is hosting the talks, about how their requirements might change given the “evolving situation”.

But he added that in the face of the ongoing pandemic, it was “paramount” that the health of any participants in the talks was protected, as well as the local community in Glasgow.