‘I can’t force any one country to do anything’: COP26 outcome ‘in the balance’ as reaching agreement will be a ‘big challenge’, president says


The president of the COP26 UN climate summit has told Sky News it is unclear if the crucial meeting will be a success and it is currently hanging “in the balance”.

Just days from the summit, Alok Sharma said: “This is going to be difficult.

“This is going to be a big challenge.

“This is getting almost 200 countries to reach consensus on some of these difficult issues that have been outstanding for six years now.

“It is in the balance.”


His comments add to growing concerns about the success of COP26 as world leaders head first to the G20 summit in Rome and then on to Glasgow.

Mr Sharma was referring, among other things, to a lack of agreement on phasing out coal, and to the fact that some countries, including India and China, have yet to submit more ambitious plans for reducing carbon emissions, despite promising to do so.

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China has already committed to peak carbon emissions before 2030, and net zero by 2060, and has indicated that it is both unwilling and unable to move further.

But US special envoy on climate change John Kerry has said that the world will miss its global emissions targets unless this happens.

Alok Sharma has said the outcome of the summit is ‘in the balance’

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Mr Sharma said: “China is the biggest emitter in the world.

“What China does matters.

“If you look at all of the G20 collectively they are responsible for 80% of global emissions, and China’s responsible for around 27% of global emissions… but actually what every country does matters as well.”

“17 out of the 20 have said that they’re going to get to net zero by the middle of the century, but of course that’s not enough.”

In light of the UN Secretary General’s comment that the disparity between what has been pledged and what needs to be done is actually caused by a leadership gap, I asked the COP26 president if there was a problem with his leadership.

He said: “Ultimately, this is world leaders who made commitments in Paris, and it is world leaders who have to deliver.

“My job as COP26 president is effectively to act as shepherd-in-chief, to listen to people to try and bring consensus.

“I can’t force any one country to do anything.”

“And you know, (Glasgow) is a big, big ask and I would argue this is actually tougher than Paris, and Paris was a historic agreement.”

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In terms of the personal steps he is taking to be more environmentally friendly, Mr Sharma said he has given up meat.

He admitted to still having his diesel car and committed to swapping it for a fully electric one as soon as he has “a bit of time after COP”.

He was reluctant to be drawn on his exact plans for reducing the number of flights he will take for personal reasons, saying: “I’ve not had a personal holiday flight for some time.

“But look… we all need to sort of look at what we can do in our own lives.

“But… this is not about forcing people or telling people what to do.”

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Returning to the looming summit, Mr Sharma conceded that although much progress has been made, there still is a long list of issues to be resolved.

Apart from coal and more ambitious targets, this includes agreement on global carbon markets, transparency and accountability protocols, and how much money lower income nations will receive to adapt to the changes that are already locked in as a result of global warming.

Mr Sharma said: “What keeps me up at night is just thinking about the complexity of this.

“I’ve described it in the past as playing multi-dimensional chess, and we’re now getting towards the end of the chess game.

“What we want is for us to win for the world collectively, so that we can say to our generation, but also the future generations, that we delivered when it mattered.”

That’s the ambition.

Geopolitics may get in the way.

In a few day’s time, we’ll find out.