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The UK Hopes for Ambitious and Innovative Targets in COP26

The UK Hopes for Ambitious and Innovative Targets in COP26

Cleverly tells Asharq Al-Awsat Climate change “not just a problem to be managed” but an “opportunity”
Monday, 1 November, 2021 - 05:30
James Cleverly

The crucial COP26 summit opened Sunday in Glasgow, on the backdrop of calls to grasp the world’s “last, best hope” to keep global temperatures from rising by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius in comparison with pre-industrial times.

As 25.000 delegates from almost 200 countries descended on the Scottish city for two weeks of intense negotiations, the UK which is hosting the UN climate summit in partnership with Italy, is hoping that participating countries will present ambitious and innovative targets.

“It is incredibly important that the international community takes steps now to green our economies, reduce our reliance on hydrocarbons and to hand the planet to future generations in good order. That is what we are hoping to achieve with our friends and partners around the globe in COP26”, asserts James Cleverly, Minister for the Middle East and North Africa.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat on the eve of the summit, Cleverly says it is really important that “the world comes together, and recommits itself to preventing the increase in temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, where there are already issues of water scarcity, where the impact of climate is most acutely felt”.

One of the main aims of COP26 is to sharply cut greenhouse emissions in the coming decades, and slow the heating of the planet.

“The UK is very proud of the fact that we have the fastest reduction of greenhouse gases of all the countries in the G7”, says Cleverly. He explains: “We managed to do that, whilst still growing our economy. We made a commitment to net zero by 2050, and we are incredibly pleased that other countries around the world are making big commitments”.

In fact, adds the UK Minister, “we are very pleased with Saudi Arabia making a very high profile commitment to move to net zero. And we really hope that all the countries who are participating in COP26 will be ambitious with their targets, that they will really push for new ideas and innovations, and really commit themselves to preventing climate change, to improving the environment and to making sure that we have a planet on which we are all able to live”.

High profile targets

In a meeting last week, people from civil society in the MENA region raised the alarm about the “the impact climate change is already having in the region, with regards to water shortages, the Eastern Mediterranean having record high sea temperatures, etc”.

“That is why commitments made by countries in the region, as was the case with Saudi Arabia’s very ambitious announcement, are so important”, Cleverly says.

He adds: “If countries which are famous for oil and gas production make such a powerful commitment to Net Zero, then that shows the world that all of us have a responsibility and all of us can play a part”.

Economic opportunities

Whilst climate change poses an existential challenge to the world, the UK has been asking its partners around the globe to also view it as “a fantastic opportunity for technology, and for countries and business to work together”.

Cleverly considers that “there will be a whole range of new economic opportunities that come out of this agenda”, and adds: “We should be positive and excited about this, and we should see this as a way to grow our international bonds, our technology, and commercial links”.

“We need to embrace this as an opportunity, and not just as a problem to be managed”.

Commitments Vs Actions

Critics and environmental activists are skeptical about COP’s chances of success, and call on leaders to do more to translate commitments into action.

“A very important part of COP26 is building on the excellent work that took place in Paris (in 2015), to make sure that we turn those aspirations into real and meaningful actions, because that’s what is going to make a difference”, Cleverly said.

However, he maintained that “commitments are important, we mustn’t ignore that. But we must now hold ourselves collectively to those commitments, and finds ways of turning those words into action”.

And that can only be done collaboratively and internationally, in Cleverly’s view. “And that is why we are coming together physically (as opposed to virtually), so we can look each other in the eye, sit down around the table, and really make a difference”.

The Minister also highlighted the incredibly wide engagement with the summit, and said: “I am really proud that so many world leaders are coming together. It is an incredibly well attended conference, in terms of countries that have committed to sending very senior delegations. And I am really keen that we take this opportunity to take genuine and meaningful steps forward”.

Xi and Putin’s absence

Despite the large international presence in COP26, the absence of two main players, namely Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, has not gone unnoticed.

In regards to that, Cleverly admits that “the commitment of countries like Russia and China is incredibly important”. But adds: “we should remember that a huge number of very senior leaders will be there. Obviously we want to make sure that the whole world is pulling in this direction. We will continue working with countries around the world, and we will continue pushing this agenda forward”.

He adds: “Obviously, physical presence in Glasgow is incredibly important, but even if some world leaders are not there, we will continue pushing this agenda forward”.

Global Britain

In hosting COP26, and the G7 leaders summit last summer, the UK is asserting its role on the international stage as “Global Britain”.

“The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the whole of the government are absolutely committed for the UK to be an engaged player on the global stage, to champion issues that we feel are important, like climate change and improving the environment”, Cleverly asserts.

He continues: “As well as coordinating and convening, we are determined to take the lead on being a really effective global country, to drive forward economic advantage, but to do so in a way that protects the environment and is fair and underpinned with the UK’s principles”.

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