Saturday 15 February 2020 4:14 AM UTC
London Feb 15: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday appointed a dedicated government minister to lead the UN climate talks in Glasgow later this year, after warnings that planning for the event is “miles off track”.
Former international aid minister Alok Sharma was named minister for the COP 26 summit, replacing the event’s former president, Claire O’Neill, who was sacked last month.
Alok Sharma will combine the role with the position of cabinet minister for business, energy and industrial strategy, which he was given as part of a wider government reshuffle.
Kat Kramer, global climate lead for charity Christian Aid, welcomed the appointment, although she warned he was taking over “late in the process”.
She said he must work to get other countries to commit to tackling climate change, “but also put the UK’s own house in order and enact policies to accelerate UK decarbonisation”.
His business and energy brief means he will be “well-placed to oversee this”, she said.
However, Green party MP Caroline Lucas said Alok Sharma had voted 15 times in parliament against measures to tackle what she called the climate emergency.
“This is not commitment. Our climate, and the UK’s reputation, cannot afford someone who is so lukewarm on biggest challenge we face,” she said on Twitter.
The 52-year-old was born in India and brought up in south-east England.
He trained as an accountant and worked in banking before becoming an MP for Johnson’s Conservatives in 2010.
Alok Sharma held a variety of junior government positions before being given the cabinet-level job of international development minister when Johnson took office last July.
O’Neill was a former minister but was not inside government when she was made COP president. Downing Street said it wanted the role to be held by an existing minister.
She responded to her sacking by warning that planning for the UN talks was “miles off track” and suggesting Johnson himself did not understand climate change.
“You promised to ‘lead from the front’ and asked me what was needed ‘money, people, just tell us!’. Sadly, these promises and offers are not close to being met,” she wrote to him.
The summit plans have also been hit by tensions between London and the devolved Scottish government in Edinburgh led by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who is pressing for a new independence referendum.
Boris Johnson’s office on Wednesday said it was “committed” to holding the summit in Glasgow, but added that it was looking at a London venue as “contingency planning”.
“The Scottish government needs to work with us to make sure it is a successful summit,” the spokesman said.
Sturgeon dismissed the comments as “just silly”, saying the two governments were working well together on COP — and accused Johnson of “playing politics”.
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