Climate change: COP26 president Alok Sharma says 'collective self-interest' will drive international action

“We do have everything – and we must not throw it away,” COP26 president Alok Sharma has warned.

Mr Sharma’s declaration was issued as he said “collective self-interest” had led 197 countries to sign up to the historic Glasgow Climate Pact and it was the same thing that would help the world tackle global warming and avoid its worst effects on humankind.

The UK Government minister was speaking on Monday at an event hosted by international affairs think-tank Chatham House, reflecting on the outcomes of the United Nations summit and setting out how the country plans to drive forward agreements contained in the deal.

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He said the success of the conference was down to international leaders broadly recognising “three truths” which would impact every country on earth – that this planet is our only home and we are in danger of destroying it; inaction or delayed action on climate will create immense risks and costs; and curbing warming will bring both environmental and economic dividends.

COP26 president Alok Sharma said "collective self-interest" was a key motivator in getting the "historic" Glasgow Climate Pact over the line and would also help turn promises into action

“In short, climate is a space where national and global interests align,” he said.

“And as a result, leaders recognised that, despite other differences, co-operation at COP26 was in our collective self-interest.”

Key successes from the conference were agreements to “phase down” and end finance for coal power, targets for bigger reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in a bid to restrict warming to 1.5C and pledges to provide more money to help developing countries adapt to the changing climate.

But Mr Sharma cautioned that failure to turn commitments made in Glasgow into action would see them “wither on the vine".

He said the focus of the rest of the UK’s COP26 presidency would be “delivery”, including working with COP27 hosts Egypt.

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“The Glasgow Climate Pact is a product of international co-operation and a practical demonstration of Global Britain in action,” Mr Sharma said.

“All in all, there is no doubt that the commitments we secured at COP26 were historic.

“Yet, at the moment they are just words on a page. And unless we honour the promises made, to turn the commitments in the Glasgow Climate Pact into action, they will wither on the vine.

“We will have mitigated no risks. We will have seized no opportunities.

“Instead, we will have fractured the trust built between nations and 1.5 degrees will slip from our grasp.

“So my absolute focus for the UK Presidency year is delivery.”

He warned climate change would bring not only catastrophic environmental impacts such as extreme heatwaves, droughts, storms and floods, but would also increase famines, wars, mass displacement of people and civil unrest across the globe.

Mr Sharma said: “I believe the collective self-interest that helped COP26 to succeed must now drive us to nurture the spirit of global co-operation forged in Glasgow, and honour the Glasgow Climate Pact.”

Environmental campaigners said the UK must ensure it fulfils its own promises and “lead by example”.

“COP26 kept the goal to limit global warming to 1.5C alive, but its pulse is indeed weak,” Tanya Steele, chief executive of environmental charity WWF, said.

“Unless swift and sustained action is taken to deliver on the commitments made in Glasgow, people and wildlife face a frightening future.”

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