According to the British President of UN Climate Talks, climate collapse will lead to global catastrophe.
Alok Sharma, UK minister responsible for the Cop26 talks in Glasgow in November, stated to the Observer, "I don't think there is any other word." You are witnessing every day what is happening around the globe. The last year was the hottest ever recorded, and the last decade was the hottest.
Sharma maintained that the UK could continue with fossil fuel projects despite mounting criticisms of plans to license oil and gas fields. Sharma defended the government's plans to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. These plans have been heavily criticised in the UK by the independent Committee on Climate Change. He also dismissed any controversies about his travel schedule.
On Monday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will release a comprehensive report that shows how close we are to a potentially irreversible catastrophe caused by extreme weather.
This will be the most stark warning yet about how human behavior is rapidly accelerating global warming. Cop26 must be the moment that we do this right. Sharma stated that we cannot afford to delay for two, five, or ten years. This is his first major interview since assuming responsibility for the climate negotiations.
Although I don't think we are out of our time, I believe we were dangerously close to the end of our time. The IPCC will give us a clear warning that we must act quickly or we will be forced to stop.
Floods in Germany this month destroyed a railway bridge near Dernau, Germany. Photograph: Action Press/Rex/Shutterstock
He said that the effects of global warming were already obvious. We are already seeing the effects of global warming in the UK, China and Europe. Or the forest fires and record-breaking temperatures in North America. Each day, a new record is set in some way or another around the globe.
He said that this was not abstract science, but about people's lives. This all boils down to the real human impact that this is having on the world. I have visited communities where people had to leave their homes due to drought or flooding.
Sharma spoke to the Observer exclusively on the eve the IPCC report. He urged governments, businesses, and individuals all over the globe to heed his call and press for more action at Cop26 to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Sharma said that this would be the last chance.
Anyone who doesn't understand why the next decade must be so decisive in climate action is going to wake up with this [IPCC] report. He said that we will get a clear understanding of how human activity is causing climate change at alarming speeds.
He said that disaster was not inevitable and actions taken now could save lives in future.
Sharma, as president of Cop26 faces a daunting task. The current national plans of many countries to reduce their emissions are insufficient and would push the world well beyond the 1.5C temperature increase that the IPCC has warned is the threshold of safety. He will need to convince countries like Brazil, India, Russia and China to make credible emissions reduction commitments. In addition, he will need to extract cash pledges from the US, EU, and other wealthy nations to fulfill a long-standing, unfulfilled promise of 100 billion dollars per year in climate finance for the developing world.
Campaigners for the environment have warned that the UK is losing its credibility at an important time. While ministers face legal challenges over their support of the Cambo oilfield project, other North Sea exploration licenses were opened earlier this year. A potential coal mine in Cumbria is not ruled out.
Bozhong 13-2 Field in the Bohai Sea. China is opening an oil and gas field. Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock
These decisions were made despite the warning issued by the International Energy Agency (global energy watchdog) in May that any new fossil fuel exploration or development worldwide must stop this year if we are to limit global warming to 1.5C.
Sharma stated that future [fossil fuel] licenses will have to conform to the fact that we have made a commitment to net zero by 2050. Any licences will have to pass a climate test.
Rachel Kennerley from Friends of the Earth is a climate campaigner. She said: This is categorically the wrong strategy, and unnecessarily takes things down to the wire [in reaching net-zero emissions by 2050]. Every day, every month, that we delay, makes the climate crisis even more dangerous and costly to solve. It would be great if everyone was convinced by the minister of the benefits of investing in long-term, unpolluting jobs.
Sharma was also criticised recently for his recent air travel to red-list country, which saw him visit at least 30 countries in the past seven months and not being quarantined upon his return. Sharma was exempted by government rules from isolation requirements. He said that it was essential to see ministers from other countries before Cop26. At that time, he will have to bring together 197 countries to reach a consensus on the 1.5C target. Each country must then prepare detailed plans.
Sharma claimed that he was throwing everything at trying to make a deal. He said that although I attend a lot of virtual meetings every week, I can assure you that meeting in person with ministers is vital and even beneficial. It is a great way to make connections with people who are important to us as we seek consensus.
Sharma said that Boris Johnson, the prime minster, was also engaged. Sharma affirmed this despite Keir Starmer's claims last week that Johnson was absent in action. He had not made any major intervention on Cop26 and was instead offering soundbites as a substitute for policies. Sharma said that the prime minister is always on the frontline. He has regular conversations with me. He regularly speaks to world leaders and argues for more climate action.
Many prominent Tories have also criticized the government's green stance over recent weeks. They rejected moves to ban gas boilers, and complained about rising energy prices. Sharma gave his first interview before Cop26, to show that a better world is possible if investors and businesses are willing to take advantage of the opportunities. This is how we can create a healthier planet and a cleaner planet. We can also have high-value jobs and economic growth.