Press Conference with COP26 President Alok Sharma

Sharma answered questions about the crucial climate summit for CCNow partner journalists. See video, key statements, and a transcript of the event.

As president of COP26, the pivotal climate summit opening in Glasgow on October 31, Alok Sharma is central to its mission of preserving a livable climate for humanity. For months, the British MP has been soliciting commitments from the world’s governments to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Action plans submitted to date, however, fall well short of that goal, nor is it clear how many world leaders or civil society representatives will be able to attend the summit.

CCNow partner journalists questioned Sharma about these issues, via Zoom, at a press conference moderated by CCNow’s executive director, Mark Hertsgaard.

Key Statements

From Sharma’s opening statement: We want to be able to say with credibility coming out of Glasgow that we have kept…1.5 alive…

Over 80% of the global economy [is] covered by a net zero target, and almost all of the G20 have now signed up to a net zero commitment by the middle of the century. That’s progress.

What we’re trying to achieve at Glasgow is, in many ways, harder than Paris… After six years, we still have some of the most difficult questions to answer. And we’re effectively in the last half hour of the exam.

Oliver Milman, the Guardian: The US has no firm phase out or end date for coal… Would you like to see that from the US?
Alok Sharma: …We now have all of the G7 signed up to no more international coal financing…We’ve also got South Korea, which have signed up to no more international coal financing. And then you saw at the UN General Assembly, China also stepped forward to say no more international coal financing…

… On the issue of ending or phase out dates for unabated coal, as you know, that is something that we [tried] to get over the line at the G20 ministerial in Naples. We were not able to do that. And that is why that was moved forward to the G20 leaders… I think there is going to be a focus on this at the G20 leaders.

Audrey Garric, Le Monde: What are the lag ups now in terms of countries in their proposals?
Alok Sharma: What we are going to have to see is all the G20 come forward before COP with their more ambitious, enhanced NDCs. I think we all understand why this is so vitally important. We need every country to do this, but the G20 ultimately represents 80% of global emissions and that’s why it’s so vital that all of those countries step forward.

Mark Hertsgaard, Covering Climate Now: I know you met with the queen last week to discuss COP26. The BBC reported recently that she has said that she is “irritated,” that world leaders are talking, but not doing. Is she getting that wrong? What’s your view on that?
Alok Sharma: I think Her Majesty was absolutely right to make the point that we all need to do a lot more. Ultimately, my role is to build consensus at COP for us to get this over the line, but it is ultimately on world leaders to deliver.

Mark Hertsgaard: If your newsroom is not already a member of Covering Climate Now, we hope you’ll consider joining us. Organized by journalists for journalists, Covering Climate Now is a global media collaboration of more than 400 news outlets, strengthening coverage of the climate story and reaching a combined audience of roughly 2 billion people. There is no cost to join, no editorial line except for respect for science. So if you’d like, come to our website for more details, that’s coveringclimatenow.org. Now, some ground rules for today’s press conference. We are on the record and there is no embargo date or time. You may file your stories as soon as you like. You can quote anything that’s said in these next 60 minutes, whether you asked the question or someone else did. Soon after we conclude, each of you will receive a Zoom recording of the session and later a broadcast quality recording of the session will follow.

Mark Hertsgaard: Your newsroom can use those materials as you see fit. Now, we received dozens of requests for questions. We’ll try to get through as many of them as possible. But for this reason, we have to keep everyone to just one question a person. And after some opening remarks from President Sharma, I will call on you one at a time. You will then, when you’re called upon, unmute your audio. So you’ll need to click on the screen to the pop-up notification that will unmute you before asking your question. We also encourage you to turn on your camera so that President Sharma can see you and everyone else can see you when you ask your question. In the event that you have some glitchy video, please, this sometimes happens in Zoom events when there’s lots of people on the zoom, please turn off your video in that case to improve the connection. And now I will turn to President Alok Sharma for some opening remarks. President Sharma, thank you very much for taking time to be with us today.

Alok Sharma: Well, Mark, thank you very much for that, and very much looking forward to this session. Can I first start by saying thank you all for joining this. And we are literally days away from COP26 in Glasgow. And this will be the biggest event that the UK has organized since the 2012 Olympics. And of course we have the added complexity of COVID and we are also looking to reach agreement amongst almost 200 parties as well. And I think I would describe this as an extraordinary COP in extraordinary times. I’m very pleased that despite the fact that we still have COVID with us, we have got over 120 world leaders who will be coming to Glasgow physically, and I’m very grateful to them. And of course, to all the negotiating teams from all the parties who are coming to Glasgow. The registrations for Glasgow have been very strong indeed. So we very much look forward to the participation there.

Alok Sharma: This will, of course, not be a normal COP in the sense that we are living with COVID. We have a whole suite of measures put in place to ensure that this is a COVID secure event. And for me, that has been one of the most important issues in organizing this is that we have an event that is safe for the participants, but also of course, very importantly, safe for the people of Glasgow. And I think overall, what we want is for this COP to deliver. That this can’t be a summit, which the general public see world leaders flying and flying back out. I’ve been very clear on that right from the start of our presidency. And at the start, we effectively set out our stall, what we wanted to try and achieve out of Glasgow.

Alok Sharma: And the overarching ambition that we have got is that we want to be able to say with credibility coming out of Glasgow, that we have kept 1.5 within reach, 1.5 alive. And in doing that, I have talked personally to well over 100 governments at leader level, at ministerial level, at a negotiator level; I’ve traveled the past eight, nine months to around 35 countries, some of them twice. And I have taken a consistent message. The first is that we are looking for countries to come forward with ambition on mitigation. So those 2030 NDCs, as well as net zero commitments. Secondly, we have asked the donor countries to step forward and deliver on the $100 billion that has been promised since 2009 on an annual basis from 2020 onwards to support developing nations. Thirdly, we’ve asked for countries to set out their plans on adaptation. And fourthly, for us to work together to ensure that we can close off the Paris rule book.

Alok Sharma: And I think over the past year or so, we have made progress. I think if you look at recent published reports, you will see that in terms of where we’re heading for global warming and temperature, before Paris, I think, there was an analysis which suggested that we were heading to around six degrees of warming. I think post Paris, I think some of the analysis was clear suggesting that we were heading towards below four degrees. And I think the latest reports that you have seen make the point that if all the commitments, the NDC commitments, as well as, of course, the net zero commitments are delivered on by individual countries, we are heading towards two degrees. So the curve has been bent downwards. I think that is welcome. But of course, what we’re talking about is trying to keep 1.5 within reach. And just one statistic for you is that when we started our presidency role, the presidency designate role, less than 30% of the global economy was covered by a net zero target.

Alok Sharma: We’re now over 80% of the global economy covered by a net zero target, and almost all of the G20 have now signed up to a net zero commitment by the middle of the century. That’s progress. Of course, we need other countries, the rest of the G20, to step up on that as well. On the issue of finance you’ll have seen yesterday that we published a delivery plan for the $100 billion. I’m very grateful to Minister Jochen Flasbarth and Minister Jonathan Wilkinson from the German and Canadian governments respectively, for working on that, for us working together with donors to set that out. Of course, you know as I said yesterday in the press conference that I held, is that it’s disappointing that we weren’t able to reach the $100 billion in 2020. But I think what this plan sets out, alongside the very rigorous report from the OECD, which has analyzed these numbers that have been put forward, it does suggest that there is confidence that we will reach the 100 billion in 2023. And over the five-year period from 2021 to 2025, we will likely be above $500 billion in aggregate.

Alok Sharma: Of course, we need to be doing more in terms of finances. As I said yesterday in the press conference, one of the key areas is going to be adaptation and access to finance. In terms of the rule book issues, we had good discussions in London, in July. I convened a meeting of ministers. We had over 50 governments represented. Many of those ministers came in person and we discussed the rule book issues and some of the other critical issues, including keeping 1.5 within reach and of course, issues around loss and damage. We then continued these discussions in Milan at the pre-COP. And of course, we’re starting to see some landing grounds emerge. And I’ve got pairings of ministers who are working on these issues. But I do not want to underestimate the amount of work that is going to be required, obviously, over the next few days, but particularly over the COP to try and get over the line in terms of these rule book issues. So, I mean, I would say that we have made progress, but you know, there is a lot more to do.

Alok Sharma: And I would say that actually, what we’re trying to achieve at Glasgow is in, in many ways, harder than Paris. I think not in any way to understate the historic achievement of the Paris Agreement, but of course we are, if I can put it like this, getting towards the end of the exam, particularly on the issue of the rule book. After six years, we still have some of the most difficult questions to answer. And we’re effectively in the last half hour of the exam. And I suspect all of you have been through the process, know exactly what that is like. So there’s going to have to be a real focus on making progress on these issues. But I would also say that climate action presents a real opportunity in a world where the geopolitics perhaps isn’t as we would like. But this is an opportunity for us to work together. And certainly every country that I have spoken to, every country I’ve visited, have been very clear that they want COP26 to be a success. And that’s why I think, for me, it’s very important that countries deliver on that and we work together at COP.

Alok Sharma: And the final thing I want to say before we open up for questions is that I have, of course, been very clear that as a presidency, we are there to build consensus, we are neutral, but of course, I’ve also recognized the fact that it is important for me as a COP president to champion the voices of the climate vulnerables. Over the past eight, nine months, I’ve had an opportunity to visit a number of countries in the frontline of climate change. I’ve had an opportunity actually, very humbling, to speak to those who are suffering because of climate change, which is not necessarily of their own making. And I think that is why as a world we need to make sure that we deliver at COP26. Not just for our generation, but indeed for future generations as well. Mark, with that, let me pass you back and I’m very happy to take any questions.

Mark Hertsgaard: Thank you, President Sharma, for those introductory remarks. We’ll take our first question from my colleague at The Guardian, Oliver Milman.

Oliver Milman: Thanks, Mark. Hello there, Mr. Sharma. I just wanted to ask you about the importance and the credibility of the United States in these talks. There’s a few countries who’ve said that they still don’t know quite where they stand with the US following Donald Trump’s presidency. Do you understand that? Do you share these views? And related to that, you said that this is the COP where you want coal to be consigned to history. The US has no firm phase out or end date for coal. Again, does that disappoint you? Would you like to see that from the US?

Alok Sharma: So I think first thing in terms of the US, look, I said this when we had the change of administration that I welcomed the fact that we now have an administration in the US that is very focused on taking climate action and supporting very much the international effort. And I think, symbolically, I think it was really important that one of the first executive orders that President Biden signed was in fact to re-engage, reenter the Paris Agreement. And you’ve seen the US set out its plans in terms of its NDC, which is ambitious in terms of its net zero commitments. And most recently at UNGA, it’s finance commitment as well. So I think the US is committed. I’ve been working obviously with John Kerry and his team and our teams have worked together as we’ve done with all parties.

Alok Sharma: But I think there’s a real commitment on the part of the US to make sure that we deliver at COP. Just in terms of the issue of coal, I mean, I would just ask us all to reflect on where we have come from where we were just at the beginning of the year. We have got to a position where we now have all of the G7 signed up to no more international coal financing. That was something that we got over the line at the climate and energy ministers, and environment minister’s meeting that I co-chaired in June, in London. We’ve also got South Korea which have signed up to no more international coal financing. And then you saw at the UN General Assembly, China also stepped forward and said no more international coal financing.

Alok Sharma: And I was in China, in September, in Xinjiang, having meetings with Xie Zhenhua and other colleagues as well, one of my key asks was on the issue of coal. And certainly on international coal financing, we’ve got an answer. On the issue of domestic coal, on the issue of ending of phase out dates for unabated coal, as you know, that is something that we tried to get over the line at the G20 ministerial in Naples. We were not able to do that. And that is why that was moved forward to the G20 leaders. I know that our Italian partners, who of course are leading the G20 are working with us and others to see what may be possible. But I think there is going to be a focus on this at the G20 leaders.

Mark Hertsgaard: Next question, Josh Lederman, NBC News, please.

Josh Lederman: Hey, thank you so much for doing this during what I’m sure is an incredibly busy time. Oliver’s question is the one that I was most interested in as well, on US credibility. But instead, can you talk a little bit about what you expect at COP on Article 6 and carbon markets? And do you think that we are going to end up in a place at the end of this COP where the world is ready to move forward with some type of carbon pricing globally? Thanks.

Alok Sharma: So, I mean, I think… Thank you for that, Josh. I mean, just to say that obviously our job, my job is to build consensus, right? I’m sort of, if I can put it like this, a shepherd in chief as part of this process. And obviously what I’m not doing is setting out my personal preferences or that of the UK. We are neutral in this process. This has been about building consensus. What I can tell you is that in some of these, the most difficult areas in Article 6, there are landing grounds that are emerging. And you’ll forgive me if on this call I’m not going to go into the details of that because there are different countries that still have different views.

Alok Sharma: But what we’re going to have to see is what happens in Glasgow. Right now we are in the pre-cessionals where you’ve got the negotiating groups meeting. The reality is that because of COVID, many of these groups at a negotiator level have not been able to meet physically for quite some time. I think we will see what positions emerge. I’ll be going up to Glasgow myself tomorrow. I will start those discussions with the groups as well as they form their own opinions and their negotiating positions, but what I would say is that on Article 6, as indeed on transparency and common timeframes, these are issues that have been debated now for six years. I think people will find it very difficult to understand if we are not able to reach consensus on these points. It is going to be difficult. It is going to be difficult, but I think I’ve been encouraged both in London and in Milan that there has been some flexibility shown, which perhaps there wasn’t before from some of the parties.

Mark Hertsgaard: Thank you. Now we will go to Audrey Garric from Le Monde.

Audrey Garric: Hello? Okay. Could you say, for you, what are the lag ups now in terms of countries in their proposals?

Alok Sharma: Well, I think Audrey, I personally don’t like to use phrases like that, but I talked about the G20 meeting in Naples. What we did get in the communique is for every G20 nation to step forward before COP and set out its ambitious, enhanced NDC. You will know that some of the G20 have come forward and set out those NDCs. As I said, many of them have now set out also net zero commitments for the middle of the century, which of course is very welcome, but what we are going to have to see is all the G20 come forward before COP with their more ambitious, enhanced NDC. I think we all understand why this is so vitally important. We need every country to do this, but the G20 ultimately represents 80% of global emissions and that’s why it’s so vital that all of those countries step forward.

Mark Hertsgaard: Thank you and now Stephanie Ebbs of ABC news. Stephanie.

Stephanie Ebbs: Thank you, Mark. I wanted to ask about the relationship between the US and China, as we know that they’re both very important players in this space, but we hear specifically from the US perspective, the Biden administration calling things an era of strategic competition. So how can this COP build consensus between two such important countries, if they’re coming from a place of competition and tension?

Alok Sharma: Well, Stephanie, I sort of made this point in my opening remarks, but just to amplify this is that, I have obviously had an opportunity through COVID to visit a lot of countries. I’ve obviously been to the US, I’ve been to China, I’ve been to other countries as well in the G20. Every single one of them recognizes very clearly that climate change does not respect borders and they do understand that climate change is a big leveler and in fact, in just about every country we can see the effects of climate change, so I think there is a very clear understanding that this is a shared endeavor. And as I said, every country has said to me that they want COP26 to be a success.

Alok Sharma: What I am now doing, as we get together in the next few days in Glasgow, is to remind countries that this is a shared endeavor and we need to do this for the sake of humanity. This is not about country A, B, C or D, this is about us doing something collectively for the common good and I think there is that understanding, certainly in the conversations that I’ve had, so I hope we will be able to reach consensus at COP. Obviously China, the US or other countries, which are going to be vitally important for this equation and we will work alongside them, along with everybody else, to try and forge consensus.

Mark Hertsgaard: Thank you. President Sharma, let me break a rule here and just clarify that question. Can you confirm here today whether President Xi of China will be attending Glasgow?

Alok Sharma: I can’t. I hope that he will still come. I do not have a confirmation on that, but I think we still hope that President Xi will come and as I said, we’ve got over 120 world leaders who are already committed to come to this, some of those from countries where it is a more arduous journey than for some others, so of course we want to see him, in fact, we want to see every world leader coming, but what is also going to be very important is that after the two days of the world leader summit, which are vital in terms of setting the tone for COP, we are going to go into these detailed negotiations. China is sending a negotiating team. I’m going to be meeting with them later on this week in more detail to have those discussions, as in fact are very many other nations as well. That is going to be key is, what we do over the next few weeks in Glasgow in terms of those detailed negotiations on the rule book, particularly, but also on some of the other critical issues around finance, et cetera.

Mark Hertsgaard: Okay. We’re going to go now to John Woodside. He’s with the National Observer in Canada.

John Woodside: Hey, good morning. I guess with the major gap of the Paris Agreement, being no mention of fossil fuels really, that’s left countries like Canada and others talking about net zero goals while maintaining an oil and gas industry. But with things like the Fossil Fuel Non-proliferation Treaty and the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance expected to play a role at this year’s COP, I’m just wondering, how do you see fossil fuels featuring into the upcoming negotiations? Thank you.

Alok Sharma: Yeah. I think as part of the work we’ve been doing on this COP, I think if I can put it like this in terms of some of those real economy outcomes that we’ve also focused on, it has been on coal. As we said earlier, one of the things I wanted to do is to be able to say that we are consigning coal power to history. It’s been on cars, the move towards zero emission vehicles; it’s been on ending deforestation; and then of course the issue on climate finance cash as well. I think in terms of the issue overall on fossil fuels, I think you made the point about where this sits in terms of the UNFCCC negotiations, but what I would say is that you are seeing policies emerge from individual governments and obviously the UK, for instance, has set out that we will not, with a few exceptions, be financing international fossil fuel projects abroad. And secondly, we have also set out that when it comes to oil and gas, in terms of granting any future licenses, we will have a climate compatibility checkpoint, which we’re going to be introducing, which is going to ensure that we adhere to the UK’s legally binding policy of being net zero by 2050.

Mark Hertsgaard: Okay. Thank you for that. Now we turn to Cara Korte of CBS News. Cara.

Cara Korte: Thank you so much for your time today. A follow up question on China and I’ll also include Russia. If neither of those countries’ leaders attend the summit, what signal does that send? I understand that there are going to be delegates there on their behalf, but ultimately if the captains of those ships are not present, that doesn’t seem like a positive indicator of those countries’s ambitions.

Alok Sharma: Well, Cara, as I said, we would like the captain of all the ships to be there, but I think the fact that in a COVID environment, we have got over 120 attending, I hope demonstrates the importance that leaders attach to this, and of course we would want those leaders who are thinking of not coming to attend COP, but I think the negotiations are, of course, going to be critical as well, as I said, the first two days of this COP, when it kicks off actually on the 31st, with the procedural openings, but then the first and 2nd of November are the World Leader summit and a alongside the plenary there will be a number of key events as well for involving world leaders, but then we do go into the nitty gritty of the negotiations. All of you on this call are experienced journalists who’ve been covering climate for a long period of time. You will know that at the end of the day, what emerges at the end of every COP process is also going to be the sum of the parts of negotiations that take place and so having all the key negotiating teams there, I think is going to be vitally important and absolutely will make a big difference in terms of what we achieve at COP.

Mark Hertsgaard: Thank you. Now it’s my pleasure to introduce my colleague Marlowe Hood, of Agence France-Presse. Marlowe.

Marlowe Hood: Yes. Thank you very much, Mark and thank you, Mr. Sharma for taking the time to field these questions. The recent IPCC report makes it very clear that we are likely to overshoot 1.5°C in the short term, which means that we will need negative emissions to bring temperatures back under the 1.5°C cap by 2100, per the Paris Agreement. To be clear, I’m not talking about carbon capture and storage, but pulling CO2 out of the air. Given the limitations on tree planting as a solution, do you envisage a massive carbon removal industry in the near future?

Alok Sharma: Well, I think the first thing to just acknowledge, of course, I think the IPCC report was a wake up call, quite frankly. I think “code red” is the way that it’s been described. I think that’s absolutely right and I think for anyone who was in any doubt, the fact that it emphatically stated that it is human activity that is causing climate change and global warming, I think was very, very important. And as I think you are implying, we’re already at, at least 1.1 degrees global warming. The window to 1.5 alive is closing. The IPCC report was very clear on that, but it is still ajar and I think there is still an opportunity for us to ensure that we take action now in what I would describe as a decisive decade, to ensure we are putting in place the commitments on reducing emissions, so that we can keep 1.5 within reach. One of the reasons that actually the climate vulnerable countries fought so hard for the 1.5 language in Paris, is because 1.5 for them isn’t a slogan. This is literally the matter between survival and not surviving, so that’s been very important.

Alok Sharma: I think in terms of technologies, I’ll make a general point, which is that I’m sure you will see new technologies that emerge over time, which will help us fight climate change, but I think what I’m encouraged by is what has happened in terms of technologies that already exist. Let’s take renewables. We know that on a 10 year view, the price of solar, for instance, has fallen by 80, 90%. We know that the cost of offshore wind has come down by 60, 70% and these are part of the technologies that are going to be so vital in terms of pushing out and delivering energy transition, clean energy transitions, across the world. As I said, I’ve had an opportunity to visit countries, countries in Southeast Asia, for instance, which are showing economic growth. The answer to that is not to ask them to curb their growth. The answer to that is to help them with a clean energy transition and that support is starting to be provided as well. Just a general point I would say to you is that, I think we will see and you’ve seen embryonic technology starting to emerge and that will absolutely be part of the solution in terms of tackling climate change.

Mark Hertsgaard: Thank you. Now Brian Kahn of Earther. Brian.

Brian Kahn: Hey, thank you so much for doing this. My question is around fossil fuel development, just to [inaudible 00:28:54] a bit off John’s question. I know that the UN Production Gap report that just came out recently shows that world governments still plan to produce basically double the amount of fossil fuels that are compatible with the 1.5 degrees C world. The IEA found that we need to basically stop all new fossil fuel exploration next year and yet the UK is still considering approving permits for fossil fuel exploration, including the Cambo oil field. I know that you said that there would be climate checks in place and that this will be done to meet the net zero goal, but I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about why the UK won’t just commit to ending fossil fuel exploration, which is the most sure fire climate check, and what kind of message it sends to other countries at COP, as they weigh what their commitments are to reduce their emissions.

Alok Sharma: Yeah, I think the first thing I would say is that actually, certainly based on the discussions I’ve had around the world, people do see the UK as a leader on climate action. Just to give you one statistic, since the year 2000, we have decarbonized our economy faster than any other G20 nations. We were one of the first major economies of the world to put into law net zero and we do have one of the most ambitious NDCs of any of the major economies, which I worked on which we put out last year, of at least 68% reduction by 2030. And we’ve gone further. We also have carbon budgets which are legally binding in our system. We have said by 2035 that we will see our carbon budget will require us to cut emissions by 78%. So, I don’t think anyone can doubt the UK’s commitment in terms of tackling climate change, in terms of bringing down emissions.

Alok Sharma: In terms of our energy mix, one of the other things that we did do was set out an energy white paper last year when I was business secretary and running the business department, which also covered the energy portfolio. We did set out our energy white paper, and we showed different mixes of what our energy mix may look like, but that was also based on how we were going to decarbonize our energy mix.

Alok Sharma: So, what I would say to you is that you have to judge us on what we have achieved. In a short few years, we have built the biggest offshore wind sector in the world. I mean, literally, in the world, the biggest offshore wind sector, and we have said that we’re going to quadruple that. We put out a 10 point plan for what we describe as a green industrial revolution at the end of last year, and we said we are going to go from 10 gigawatts… It’s more than that now, obviously, installed over this year, but from 10 gigawatts to 40 gigawatts by 2030. The reason that we have been able to do this, and the reason we have built the offshore wind sector so fast, is because we have put in place the revenue mechanisms to allow the private sector to invest, as well.

Alok Sharma: So, I would just say that please judge the UK on what we have achieved so far on the issue of future licenses when it comes to oil and gas. As I’ve said, to be very, very clear that we will, by the end of this year, set out the details of the climate compatibility checkpoint, and people will have an opportunity to look at that, and obviously, I’m sure there will be commentary provided on that. But I think we, as the UK, actually have a pretty strong record when it comes to tackling climate change and emissions.

Mark Hertsgaard: Speaking of coal, let’s turn to the Times of India, Manka Behl, Times of India.

Manka Behl: Hello, Mr. Sharma. Thank you for taking time out for this conference. My question is India has not committed to net zero target, and according to experts, committing to it would require a country like India to retire its coal plants and fossil fuels usage overnight. What are your views on this? Do you think for a developing and a large country like India, net zero by 2050 is a meaningful and realistic target?

Alok Sharma: Yeah. Thank you for that question. Obviously, in the last few months, I have been twice to India, had very productive discussions. I had an opportunity also to meet with Prime Minister Modi, who I know is very committed and focused on the issue of restoring nature and protecting biodiversity, so that was a very rich conversation that I had with him. In terms of, every country starts from a different energy mix and that is something that I have acknowledged when I have spoken to individual countries. However, in the case of India, as you will know, India has made massive efforts in terms of building out its renewable sector. I think we are at 100 gigawatts now, and by 2030 the aim is to be at 450 gigawatts. I think that’s incredibly welcomed. Obviously, Prime Minister Modi also announced a national hydrogen mission. Again, hydrogen is an area where there are very many countries focused. The UK is part of Mission Innovation, too. We are leading some of the work on hydrogen, as well.

Alok Sharma: So, I think there is a clear understanding that the move to renewables is something that India, along with very many other countries, wants to push forward. I’m encouraged by that. And what I hope will also happen in terms of India’s NDC, when that’s set out, is that will include its renewable target of 450 gigawatts. That’s something that I spoke about when I was in India last, both, obviously, in meetings with the government, but also in public, as well. So, I look forward to seeing that NDC come forward before COP26.

Mark Hertsgaard: Thank you. We will now turn to Roku Goda at the Japanese newspaper, the Asahi Shimbun. Roku.

Roku Goda: Thank you for doing this, Mr. Sharma. A question on climate finance. ODI reports that the US, where they are the largest share of the cost, but President Biden’s declaration last month doesn’t reach that level. How are you pushing the US and others to contribute more?

Alok Sharma: Thank you for that, Roku. Firstly, I just want to acknowledge that, of course, the Japanese government has also stepped forward with fresh money which came at the G7 leaders meeting, as well, and we very much welcome that. I think the US, of course, has announced $11.4 billion by 2024. That was announced by president Biden, and I very much welcome that. I think that did allow us to have conversations with other donors, as well, and encourage them to come forward with more.

Alok Sharma: But I think there are two issues for me, here. One is in terms of the quantum of the finance itself. As I said, we’ve set out in the delivery plan what the current projections are. Some of the assumptions of the delivery plan, particularly the mobilization of private finance of public money, is relatively conservative as set out by the OECD. So, I hope there’ll be an opportunity, and there is always an opportunity as budgeting cycles come around, for every country to step up and do more. But I think what is going to be particularly critical for developing nations is how much of that climate finance goes towards adaptation, and the whole issue of access to finance is also going to be really important. So, I’ve spoken in the past about the fact that developing countries do not want to see adaptation as a poor cousin of mitigation. There is a Champions group of countries that has been launched in recent weeks. The UK is part of that, and these countries are pushing for more balance between adaptation and mitigation funding.

Alok Sharma: On the issue of access to finance, I brought together governments, both developing nations, but also developed countries, as well as some of the multinational organizations, in March in a climate and development ministerial meeting. Coming out of that, one of the big issues has been a task force on access to finance. That is co-chaired between Fiji and the UK. What we will see at COP is us setting out a number of pilot projects in individual developing nations, which I hope will help to address and take forward some of the issues on access to finance. So, of course, quantum is really important and countries should look to see whether they can do more, but what is also important is where that money is directed and how easily it gets to individual countries.

Mark Hertsgaard: Thank you. Now, Andrew Freedman of Axios. Andrew.

Andrew Freedman: Hi, thank you for doing this press conference. With so many leaders coming, and in past COPs, the Leaders’ Summit portion has mostly been a series of speeches. I’m wondering how you’re thinking about this session, and how might it play into making this meeting a successful one?

Alok Sharma: Yeah. I’m sure we will have world leaders who will come. Some of them may well set out additional commitments, and of course you want to welcome those. Leaders will also have an opportunity to set out very clearly their sense of urgency, and why they want us collectively to work together. I think that’s as much a message to the rest of the world, as well as to those outside the negotiating rooms, for instance, as well as to those of us who are in the negotiating rooms. It would be really important, I think, in terms of messaging that comes out of the world leaders’ summit. I mean, if I look back, we held last December, the Climate Ambition Summit, where we had a significant number of world leaders come. Many of them did come with new commitments, so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens at this COP. But I think the fact that we are going to have over 120 leaders delivering what I very much hope is going to be a unified message that the world collectively needs to deliver on climate action, I think will be really very important for the world, but also very important for the direction that is set for the negotiators.

Mark Hertsgaard: Thank you. One more intervention, here, from the moderator, if I may, President Sharma. I know you met with the queen last week to discuss COP26. The BBC reported recently that she has said that she is, “irritated,” that world leaders are talking, but not doing. Talking, but not doing on climate. Is she getting that wrong? What’s your view on that? She seems not so impressed.

Alok Sharma: Well, I think you have to look at, Mark, where we are in terms of global warming. You have seen the IPCC report that was referred to, and we’ve made some progress. But I think there are very many voices which want world leaders to do more to make further commitments. I mean, I was in Milan at the pre-COP, and ahead of that, there was a Youth for Climate event organized by our colleagues in the Italian government. It was very clear that the young people there, we had around 400 delegates representing almost 200 countries who came together, and it was very clear that they were angry. They were angry with this generation of world leaders, because they also feel that the world leaders have not walked the walk, they’ve talked the talk, but they need to do more.

Alok Sharma: What I said in Milan as the pre-COP ended was that ministers should return to their countries, for us all to reflect on what the younger generation have told us. Actually, when we return to our negotiations in Glasgow, for negotiators and ministers to have those voices of the young people right at the front of their minds, and when decisions are being made, they should think very carefully about what those decisions will mean for future generations, and how the young people will respond to that, as well. I think that’s vitally important.

Alok Sharma: So, I think Her Majesty was absolutely right to make the point that we all need to do a lot more. Ultimately, my role is to build consensus at COP for us to get this over the line, but it is ultimately on world leaders to deliver. It is world leaders who signed up to the Paris Agreement. It is world leaders who make the commitments on emissions reductions. It is world leaders who make commitments in terms of supporting developing nations with finance. And so, if I can put it like this, it is on them to collectively deliver at COP.

Mark Hertsgaard: It is on them to collectively deliver at COP. So says Alok Sharma about the world leaders. We’re going to turn now to Bob Berwyn at Inside Climate News. Bob. Are you there, Bob?

Bob Berwyn: Yes, I’m there. I just tried to turn on my camera, but not sure if it’s-

Mark Hertsgaard: You’re all fine.

Bob Berwyn: … if I have enough bandwidth. But thanks again for hosting this, and Mr. Sharma for answering questions. I wanted to go back to the Paris rule book. It sounds a little abstract. I wanted to go a little more detailed into loss and damage, and wondering if you had a vision for a best case outcome for that chapter of the Paris rule book. And in the event of such a best case outcome, the chain of events that it might trigger to help the people that you talked with, that you spoke with, that you mentioned were already really hurting from climate impacts. Thanks.

Alok Sharma: Yeah. Thank you, Bob. I think on loss and damage, as I said, we had discussions on this in London, and we obviously discussed this in Milan, as well. I think one of the things that I’m very keen we do is actually… And by the way, this is not a personal view, this is something that has emerged in the ministerial discussions that we have had in London, and in Milan, and obviously we’ll have to build consensus on all of this in Glasgow, as well—But I think one of the things that countries most certainly would like to try and see, is whether we can operationalize the Santiago Network, and that is something that we are very much committed to. I completely understand why the issue of loss and damage is so important for many of those who are on the front line of climate change. We will have an opportunity to discuss these issues, but ultimately on this as with everything else, we’re going to have to build consensus. And I think Bob, this is an area where there are differing views, if I can put it like that. I have tried in this role to be as pragmatic as possible. And what I want coming out of Glasgow are very concrete actions that we can point to and say, “yes, we have made progress on these issues.” And I hope we will be able to do that in some manner on loss and damage as well.

Mark Hertsgaard: Thank you. Now we will turn to Carlos Fresneda of El Mundo. Carlos.

Carlos Fresneda: Yes. Thank you very much [inaudible 00:45:52] climate now for this occasion, of course, Mr. Sharma to be here. I just want to ask you, which will be the final indicator or the final measure of success or failure at the COP26? And if we’ll be keeping 1.5 alive will be enough?

Alok Sharma: Yes. So, Carlos, as I said in my introductory remarks is that I think this is going to be in many ways more challenging than Paris. Paris delivered this historic agreement, but it was a framework. We had to do the detail rules and more work was required on that. Some of those are still outstanding. We are still looking for those NDCs to come through and those net zero commitments to come through, we’re going to have to make further progress on finance. And then there are the rule book issues. But I go back to what I said earlier, which is that, I hope what comes out of Paris is that we say with credibility that we have kept 1.5 within reach. And I said, based on all the commitments that have been made by countries so far, you’ve seen some recent reports from the IEA and others, which I’ve suggested that if all of those commitments are delivered on, we have bent the curve towards two degrees.

Alok Sharma: Now that is still not what the Paris Agreement said. And just be very clear and I’ve been very clear on this that I very much want us to respect the Paris Agreement. That is the agreement that world leaders signed up to. And that says in terms of temperature rises, that we will try and be well below two degrees pursuing efforts towards 1.5. And that’s why we have used the phrase 1.5 within reach. But of course, if we get to a point where all the commitments that have been made are not well below two degrees, pursuing efforts towards 1.5, then we have to reflect on how in this decade, over the next few years, in fact, we may need to come back and reappraise the commitments that have been made.

Alok Sharma: And again, we’re going to have to build consensus around this. And this was one of the issues that emerged in London. And then once again was reinforced by many countries, particularly the climate vulnerables in Milan as well, is that we have to look to see how we can reach some agreement on revisiting the commitments that have been made over the next few years, if they’re not good enough.

Mark Hertsgaard: Thank you. We’ve got a few more questions to go President Sharma, I’m going to put you on the spot here and say, is it possible we can hold you for a couple minutes beyond the top of the hour while you think about that?

Alok Sharma: Maybe a minute or two, but I literally have to go to something else. I’m really sorry. It’s a bit back to back, but I’ll do my best.

Mark Hertsgaard: All right. So we’ll go first to Chris Brown from the CBC and let’s try to all be concise if we could. Chris.

Chris Brown: Yes, sure. Concise is: a number of civil society groups that have been concerned about how much presence they’re going to be able to have up at the COP site because of red lists and visas and COVID restrictions. I’m curious, how important is it to you that this is seen as an inclusive event?

Alok Sharma: Chris is absolutely vital for me. I’ve talked about the fact this should be the most inclusive COP ever, even taking into account that we are doing this within these COVID times. What we have done is some months ago, we set out the offer that we would get a support to vaccinate any accredited delegate who was not able to get back vaccinated in their home nation. And obviously, we are on target to do that. We had applications come in to us for individual delegates who wanted to be vaccinated. Some of them have now actually been able to get that support through their own country programs, which have started up, but others working with the UN, we are supporting to get vaccinated in time. The issue of a quarantine cost of course came up. And what we have said is that anyone coming from a red list country and for those colleagues who may not be familiar in the UK, we’ve had until recently a sort of traffic light system, we are now sort of a traffic light system with one color, so to speak in the sense that those countries, that when people come, we want to see them quarantine.

Alok Sharma: What we have said is that if you have been vaccinated and you come from a red list country, you’ll be required to vaccinate for five days. If you’re unvaccinated, then obviously for 10 days, which will be normal for people coming from a red list country to the UK. But we will be covering the cost of any of those quarantine hotels in those days. We’ve also ensured that through the UNFCCC, there are funds that are going to be made available for those who may end up having to very unfortunately self isolate, because they have caught COVID or have tested positive during the COP itself. And then of course, we are putting in a whole range of measures in terms of daily testing, in terms of wearing face masks in certain circumstances within the venue, in terms of social distancing, we’ve put all of that in place to ensure that we have as inclusive a COP as possible. And for me, it’s been very important that we have society groups, Indigenous peoples, women’s groups, youth groups represented, and that will absolutely be happening at COP itself.

Mark Hertsgaard: Now quickly to Natasha Blakely from Detroit Public Television. Who has some crowdsourced questions? A question, sorry, Natasha.

Natasha Blakely: Yes, of course. Thank you so much for this. I’ll be really quick. Just one question. What sort of focus or attention is planned for water policy and the role of water at this COP?

Alok Sharma: You mean more widely in terms of negotiating mandates?

Natasha Blakely: Just in terms of like protecting water or water resources, that sort of thing.

Alok Sharma: Well, there’s going to be focus on nature. In fact, one of the events at the world leaders summit, outside the plenary, will be on nature. But obviously my role is to work our way through the agenda and the negotiating, the mandated items that are set out. That’s what we will be focused on from a negotiations point of view. But I would also say that we have themed days throughout the two weeks and nature will obviously be covered and there’ll be an opportunity for non-state actors to also talk about their activities. One of the things that I’ve been very keen on at this COP is to ensure that on a daily basis, we, of course disseminate information in terms of commitments that are being made, where we are in terms of negotiations, but also commitments that are being made outside the negotiations. From business, from other non-state actors as well.

Alok Sharma: And I hope what that will do is also give the people who are outside the negotiations an understanding of what is going at the COP. It’s not just about the negotiations. They are vitally important, and we need to get those over the line. But of course there are a whole set of other announcements and other commitments that are also going to be made in terms of impacting the economy, in terms of impacting nature, which I think people will welcome as well.

Mark Hertsgaard: And Jayashree Nandi of the Hindustan Times. Pardon me if I’ve mispronounced your name, but please go ahead.

Jayashree Nandi: Yes. Hi, Mr. Sharma, thank you for this press conference. Thank you, Mark. Ahead of COP26, a lot of discussions are revolving around the depleting carbon budget, and I wanted to know that to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees, do you see a scenario where the developed countries advance their deadlines for net zero transition while there is more room to grow for the developing countries? What are your thoughts on this?

Alok Sharma: Well, Jayashree, I mean, what I would say to you is that, that is a discussion that obviously has been raised with me when I’ve been in Delhi in the past. And, CBDR as you know is part of the Paris Agreement, but ultimately my consistent message to every country is that we all need to play our part. And, I talked about the fact in an earlier answer about India, for instance. I’m impressed with the target of 450 gigawatts. What I want is for that to be reflected in the NDC as well, that India puts out. And I can tell you, I will be the first person and to welcome that very loudly, if that happens.

Mark Hertsgaard: And perhaps one last question, President Sharma?

Alok Sharma: Sure. Yes.

Mark Hertsgaard: Okay. Let’s go to Alex Kirby. Alex is with Climate News Network and longtime BBC reporter. Alex.

Alex: Thank you. Hi Mr. Sharma. This year, as you know, the UK government has cut 4 billion pounds from its foreign development spending. It’s added an extra 10 billion pounds to its spending on its nuclear arsenal. It’s also contemplating the creation of a new oil field off the coast of Scotland. Why would any country seek the advice of the British government on ways to save the planet?

Alok Sharma: Well, Alex, I think in response to an earlier question, I did talk about why the UK is seen as a climate leader around the world. And by the way, that is based on discussions, individual discussions that I’ve had with governments and ministers around the world. So that’s not sort of a general comment that I’m making. That is literally based on my personal experience of talking to other governments over the last months. I think in terms of climate finance, the prime minister announced in 2019, actually at the UN general assembly, that we would be doubling our climate finance commitment that is ring fenced. That is something that we are holding to, and you will know that the chancellor has now set out the criteria under which we would restore 0.7. And I very much hope that as the UK economy improves, it will be possible for us to restore our ODA spending to 0.7.

Mark Hertsgaard: Thank you. I think we have to leave it there. President Sharma, thank you very much for joining us today with Covering Climate Now. We will look forward to seeing you at Glasgow, and I’ll just mention to everyone, Covering Climate Now we’ll be sponsoring a number of informal happy hours at a pub in Glasgow, the Grove, and President Sharma, you are invited to join us for off the record conviviality, and we wish you good luck and good work.

Mark Hertsgaard: So let me just close up here and say that we look forward to all of you on this call. There were excellent questions today. I think it was a very productive session. Please send us your links to the stories when you run them. Just send the link to editors@coveringclimatenow.org. And don’t miss Covering Climate Now’s next COP26 background briefing. That’s this Thursday, October 28 at 11:00 AM US Eastern time. You can check our website for details on that. Thanks again for being here today and for being part of Covering Climate Now. I’m Mark Hertsgaard, wishing everyone a very pleasant day on the road to Glasgow.