Photograph of the Right Honourable Alok Sharma


COP26 President Designate 6 months to go speech

15 minute read

This year’s climate summit COP26 will be the world’s best chance of building a cleaner, greener future – COP26 President-Designate Alok Sharma in a major speech at Whitelee Windfarm, near Glasgow.

Good morning from Whitelee wind farm.

The epicentre of UK onshore wind.

Where the turbines behind me, some twice the height of the epic Glasgow Cathedral, are powering practically every home in the city.

Where, beneath Scottish skies, every revolution of these enormous blades generates enough electricity to charge 300 mobile phones.

And it is a snapshot, friends, of the future that is within our grasp, if we act now, and we act together, to protect our precious planet.

Astronauts speak of the intense emotion they feel when looking back at Earth from space, seeing it gleaming through the darkness of the cosmos. Incredible, improbable and infinitely precious.

What Buzz Aldrin has called, a “brilliant jewel in the black velvet sky”.

This is a planet, our planet, teeming with flora, fauna and human life.

Each one of us with our own hopes and aspirations for the future.

And yet, with all our destinies intrinsically bound together, on our life giving, but fragile planet.

Why we must act

And so we have the enormous responsibility, shared by each and every one of us, to protect it from a crisis of our own making.

Human activity is damaging our Earth.

It is imperilling this brilliant jewel.

The greenhouse gases that we have been pumping into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution are altering nature’s precious balance.

Disrupting the finely tuned and fantastically complex system, that is the world’s climate.

And the effects are now closing in.

Global temperatures are rising.

Last year was the hottest on record.

The last decade, was the hottest ever recorded.

In the past thirty years the world has lost up to half its coral reefs.


We have seen wildfires in the Pennines.

And floods in West Lothian.

All as pollution chokes our children.

And if we do not act now, the science tells us these effects will become more frequent and more brutal.

That we will witness a scale of global catastrophe, the likes of which the world has not seen.

And quite rightly, future generations will hold us responsible.

So we must demonstrate the same urgency in tackling climate change, that we are showing in fighting the coronavirus.

A brighter future

If we choose to act, there is another future possible.

One with clean air. And nature restored.

Where the world is protected from the worst effects of climate change.

And where we create jobs and prosperity, without harming the planet.

It is not a choice between cleaning up our environment and growing economies.

We can do both at the same time. Indeed we have done both at the same time.

The United Kingdom is a beacon of green growth.

And the Prime Minister is leading from the front, at home and internationally.

Over the last thirty years we have grown our economy by 78 percent, whilst cutting emissions by 44 percent.

In 2012, coal accounted for 40 percent of our electricity.

That figure is now less than 2 percent.

As a whole, the UK plans to phase out coal power by 2024.

Scotland has already done so.

In less than 20 years, we have developed the largest offshore wind sector in the world.

And we will end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030.

Putting us on track to end the sale of polluting vehicles, before any other G7 nation.

Around the world, we can replace dirty power with cheaper renewables.

Choking exhausts with zero-emissions vehicles.

And polluting jobs with clean ones.

There are already over 400,000 low carbon jobs here in the United Kingdom.

With new industrial hubs, in places like Teesside, Lowestoft and Hull.

And the Prime Minister’s 10 Point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution will help the economy flourish.

Attracting billions in investment and supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Across the country, we aim for the economy to support two million green jobs over the next ten years.

In fact, just today, Scottish Power has announced 180 trainee opportunities for young people across the country.

Whitelee alone supports 600 jobs.

4,000 at the peak of its construction.

This wind farm is a centre of the low-carbon economy.

A tangible demonstration of our green industrial revolution.

And a haven for plants and animals.

This is the future young people around the world are demanding.

The future shown in the submissions to our ‘Creative Earth’ art competition.

The winner of this competition, Emma Khadeh, is with us today.

So huge congratulations Emma on a really powerful image.

And it is a future, that is still within our grasp.

So long as we act now, and we act together.

To limit the rise in global temperatures.

By building back greener.

And building back better.

Overall climate action objective

We already know what we are aiming for.

In 2015, the world signed the Paris Agreement.

An international deal to tackle the climate crisis, which commits us to limit global temperature rises to well below two degrees, aiming for 1.5.

That 1.5 degree target is critical.

Indeed, every fraction of a degree makes a difference.

The science shows, that a temperature rise of two degrees, rather than 1.5, would mean hundreds of millions more people affected.

Twice as many plant, and three times as many insect species losing vast swathes of their habitat.

But since that 1.5 target was set, since the Paris Agreement was signed, the world has not done nearly enough.

All the time, the science is getting starker.

And it will continue to do so.

And now, to keep 1.5 degrees within reach, to keep 1.5 alive, we must halve global emissions by 2030.

So this is the decisive decade.

And we must act now, to launch a consistent and concerted effort to reduce emissions throughout the next ten years.

And to use the Covid-19 recovery to reimagine our economies.

Because the investments we make today, as we repair the economic damage inflicted by the pandemic, will shape this decade.

Whether we like it or not, whether through action or inaction, we are now choosing the future.

This is what makes the next United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, COP26, so critical.

If we do not take this chance to keep 1.5 degrees alive, it will slip from our grasp.

And so will our best hope of building the future we want to see.

So COP26 must be the moment that every country, and every part of society, embraces their responsibility, to protect our precious planet.

And, keep 1.5 alive.

COP26 goals

And we have a plan to get it to do so.

As COP26 President I am pressing for action around four key goals.

And we have a fantastic ally to inspire the world: our new COP26 People’s Advocate, Sir David Attenborough.

First goal

Our first goal is to put the world on a path to driving down emissions, until they reach net zero by the middle of this century.

And that’s because if we want to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, the science is clear that by 2050 we should not be producing more carbon dioxide, than we are taking out of the atmosphere.

Because it is greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide that are heating our planet.

Driving up global temperatures.

So we are asking all countries to set targets to get us to net zero by the middle of the century, and to come forward with 2030 emissions reduction targets to take us there.

Targets based on the science, so that net zero is not just some vague aspiration, but a concrete plan.

The Prime Minister, I, fellow Ministers, and our whole diplomatic network, have been making this case robustly around the world.

Personally I have met Ministers in 115 governments, both physically and virtually, since I took on the role of COP President Designate.

And we have made some progress on the journey to cutting emissions.

Around 70 percent of the world economy is now covered by net zero targets, up from less than 30 percent when the UK took on the COP26 Presidency.

All G7 nations now have 2030 emissions reduction targets, aligned with net zero by 2050.

It is progress. But there is much, much more to be done.

Despite all the commitments made so far, we are still not on track to limit warming to below 2 degrees, let alone 1.5.

Developed countries have a responsibility to lead on climate action, but everyone, especially major economies, must play their part.

So we are working with our Italian friends, our COP26 partners, and holders of the G20 Presidency, to urge robust emissions reduction targets across the G20.

And we are pushing for action in vital areas like power generation, clean transport and halting deforestation.

Because if we are serious about 1.5 degrees, Glasgow must be the COP that consigns coal power to history.

The COP that signals the end of polluting vehicles.

The COP that tackles methane emissions.

And that calls time on deforestation, by making sustainable production pay.

So we are calling on countries to commit to all new cars being zero emission by 2040, or earlier.

And we have established the COP26 Zero Emissions Vehicle Transition Council.

Bringing together governments representing some of the world’s largest car markets to get the transition moving faster.

To make sure sustainable production pays, we are co-hosting the Forest Agriculture and Commodity Trade Dialogue, with Indonesia, to protect forests and help farmers make a better living.

And we are mobilising investment in forest protection and sustainable production.

And, on coal, we are working directly with governments and through international organisations. To end international coal financing.

This is a personal priority for me.

And we are urging countries to abandon coal power, seeking the G7 to lead the way.

At the same time, we are working with developing countries to support their transition to clean energy.

Including through our COP26 Energy Transition Council, which aims to make clean power the best option for all and support a just transition.

The days of coal providing the cheapest form of power are in the past.

And in the past they must remain.

Because the science is clear that to keep 1.5 degrees alive, coal must go.

And the reality is, renewables are cheaper than coal across the majority of countries.

The coal business is, as the UN Secretary General has said, going up in smoke.

It’s old technology.

So let’s make COP26 the moment we leave it in the past where it belongs, while supporting workers and communities to make the transition, by creating good green jobs to fill the gap.

Second goal

Our second goal is to protect people and nature.

The climate is already changing, and it will continue to do so, even as we reduce emissions.

In some cases with devastating impacts.

I have met communities around the world who have been driven out of their villages because of the ravages of the climate crisis.

Their stories are devastating.


Having been born in India, a proud British citizen, and having spent time as Secretary of State for International Development, I am committed that this COP will deliver for the communities most vulnerable to climate change.

So we need to work together to enable and encourage countries affected by climate change to build flood defences and climate resilient infrastructure, to introduce early warning systems, and plant crops resistant to climate extremes.

To facilitate this, we have launched the Adaptation Action Coalition where countries can share and scale solutions.

We are asking every country to arrive in Glasgow having set out their adaptation priorities.

And we are determined to accelerate progress towards the Global Goal for Adaptation.

And we are pressing for action to avert, minimise and address the loss and damage caused by climate change.

That is why we are supporting the Risk Informed Early Action Partnership to drive early action.

And this partnership seeks to bring governments and other partners together, to make a billion people safer from climate disaster by 2025.

And it is why we are determined to get the Santiago Network up and running, to connect climate vulnerable countries to the assistance they need.

We must also deal with the vital issue of significantly increasing funding for these efforts.

And that moves me on to our third goal…

Third goal

…mobilising finance to tackle climate change.

Without adequate finance, the task ahead is near impossible.

And I ask Ministers from developed nations to imagine what it is like for communities on the frontline of climate change.

Struggling to deal with a crisis they did next to nothing to create.

To feel what it is like, to see developed countries invest trillions overnight to address the Covid-19 Pandemic, whilst the $100 billion a year that we have promised to support developing countries with remains uncertain.

The UK is playing its part, doubling our international climate finance to £11.6 billion over five years.

So I say to my fellow donor countries, that we must all keep our obligations, deliver on that $100billion, and support developing countries to respond to the climate crisis.

It is a matter of trust.

And this is a focus of our G7 Presidency.

We must also make finance easier to access and increase the sums available to protect people and nature. This is another priority for me.

In March, I brought together Ministers from 50 governments and multilateral institutions to address these issues. We are focussed on delivering on the commitments made at that meeting.

And we are working to increase the finance available to support climate action, such as by urging development banks to align with the Paris Agreement, set ambitious targets for climate financing and support green recoveries.

And calling on the IMF and major economies to respond to debt distress.

Including through the Special Drawing Rights process, to support sustainable recoveries.

And I very much welcome the leadership of the IMF in proposing a new $650billion Special Drawing Rights allocation.

And I urge all developed countries to join us in these efforts.

And to help mobilise that $100billion a year.

We are also working to get private finance flowing, and collaborating with donors and development banks to create investment opportunities in emerging markets.

The good news is that many investors see the green economy as an historic investment opportunity.

And global asset managers responsible for $37 trillion worth of assets, are now signed up to a 2050 net zero target.

This represents around 40 percent of the industry.

But, course, we are pushing for more.

Fourth goal

Our fourth goal is working together.

Encouraging cooperation across borders and across society to keep the 1.5 degree target in reach.

This means bringing businesses and civil society on board, behind our COP26 goals and building up international collaboration in critical sectors.

And building consensus among governments, so the negotiations in Glasgow are a success. These negotiations will be wide-ranging.

And will seek to drive action on emissions, adaptation and support.

Including by finalising those last elements of the Paris Rulebook, the rules needed to implement the Paris Agreement.

We must find a solution on carbon markets.

We must resolve the issues around transparent reporting, to build confidence in the system and support all countries to meet their commitments.

And we must broker agreement around Common Timeframes, to drive ambition from governments over the coming years.

There are a series of events over the next six months, to allow us to build consensus ahead of Glasgow.

And we need every country to play its part, so that we address every issue, and reach a balanced agreement, when we meet around the negotiating table at COP26.

Physical meeting

Which we will do in less than 15 miles from here.

In under six months’ time.

I am told that on a clear day at Whitelee, you just about see the conference centre, where decisions will be made in November that shape the future of our planet.

Where, as well as achieving a negotiated outcome, I hope we will see further progress on each of our four goals, as part of an inclusive summit where all voices are heard.

And that includes the voices of developing countries, of women, of young people and Indigenous Peoples.

Historically marginalised communities are some of the most impacted by climate change, and hold some of the most effective solutions to tackling it.

For me, it is vital that developing nations are able to sit at the same table, face-to-face, with the larger countries, the big emitters.

I have always championed the need for a physical COP.

The desire for one is what I have been hearing loud and clear from governments and communities around the world.

So we are planning for a physical summit, where ensuring the safety of delegates and the local community will be paramount.

Along with our colleagues in the Scottish Government, Glasgow City Council, Public Health bodies and the UN, we are exploring every possible Covid security measure.

That includes testing, vaccines and other measures to keep COP26 Covid free.

In due course, we will share our plans so that delegates coming to Glasgow, and indeed the whole of the British public, have confidence in COP26 going ahead safely.

Allowing us to seize the moment.

When Margaret Thatcher raised the alarm on climate change at the United Nations in 1989, she said:

“We are not the lords, we are the Lord’s creatures, the trustees of this planet, charged today with preserving life itself…

… with all its mystery and all its wonder.

May we all be equal to that task.”

And now, more than thirty years on, we have come to the moment of truth.

This is our last hope of keeping 1.5 degrees alive.

Our best chance of building a brighter future.

A future of green jobs and cleaner air.

I have faith that world leaders will rise to the occasion, and not be found wanting in their tryst with destiny.

That, in six months time, when we are packing up and going home,

we will be able to say, that at this critical juncture, each of us took responsibility.

That we chose to act.

And that we kept 1.5 degrees alive.

In preparing for this speech I asked my daughters what message I should give to world leaders about their priorities.

Their response was simple: “please, tell them to pick the planet.”

And that’s the message I want to leave you with today.

A message from my daughters.

A message from future generations.

This is our moment.

There are no second chances.

So please, let’s pick the planet.

I have faith that working together with all of you in a collaborative manner, we will make the right choices.

We owe that to ourselves. And to future generations.

Thank you.