U.K.’s Sharma to Focus on Role Leading UN Climate Summit

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Alok Sharma will step down as U.K. business secretary and focus full-time on his role as president of the United Nations climate conference.

Kwasi Kwarteng has been appointed to replace Sharma as head of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office said in a statement on Friday.

Sharma already held the role of president of the climate talks, known as COP26, but he will now focus solely on that role to “meet the high ambitions for the summit,” which is being hosted by the U.K. at year-end, Johnson’s office said.

U.K.’s Sharma to Focus on Role Leading UN Climate Summit

“Given the vital importance of tackling climate change I am delighted to have been asked by the prime minister to dedicate all my energies to this urgent task,” Sharma said. “The biggest challenge of our time is climate change and we need to work together to deliver a cleaner, greener world and build back better for present and future generations.”

The appointment is a mark of the importance Johnson places on the climate summit, which is due to be held in Glasgow in November. He announced a slew of green measures in the last two months of 2020 as he aimed to demonstrate U.K. leadership on pushing down emissions of greenhouse gases.

U.K. Pledges

In December, Johnson promised a 68% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared with 1990, the deepest cuts in the Group of 20 nations. The previous month, he announced a 12 billion-pound ($16.3 billion) plan to boost green industries including hydrogen, wind and energy efficiency.

The COP presidency role involves liaising between representatives of more than 190 different nations as the world’s governments try to strike a unified approach on tackling climate change by reducing fossil fuel emissions.

Past presidents of the conference include German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who as environment minister in 1995 helped set the stage for the Kyoto Protocol, and the then Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen, who in 2009 failed in attempts to broker a fresh global deal in Copenhagen.

While the discussions are held annually, the last major round was in Paris in 2015, when French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius presided. He and his team made more than 100 official visits and held more than 400 bilateral meetings with 140 different countries over the two years leading up to the summit.

Covid Restrictions

With the coronavirus pandemic still raging and travel restrictions in place around the world, Sharma is unlikely to have the luxury of being able to hold so many face-to-face meetings.

The Glasgow discussions are due to run Nov. 1-12 after the pandemic forced the conference to be postponed from last year. Instead, Johnson in December hosted a pledging summit for countries to announce new promises to curb emissions.

Kwarteng was already serving as a junior minister in the business department. He’ll be replaced in that role by former International Development Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who left the cabinet last year when her department was scrapped.

Trevelyan also has a role in the climate talks, working on so-called adaptation, supporting countries vulnerable to climate change to adapt to its impacts and build resilience.

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