UK's COP26 president Alok Sharma under fire over 'lax' attitude towards global climate talks in Glasgow
The UK’s president-elect for COP26 has been accused of not taking the United Nation climate change summit seriously after it emerged he has barely been in touch with officials in Scotland, the host nation, since being appointed to the role six months ago.
But a recent enquiry to the UK Cabinet Office, under Freedom of Information rules, revealed he has been in touch with the Scottish Government directly only four times and Glasgow City Council three. Mr Sharma has not made direct contact with Police Scotland so far in 2021.
COP26 – the UN’s 26th annual Conference of Parties – was originally due to be held in November 2020, but was postponed for 12 months due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
It is considered to be the most important next step in the battle to curb global temperature increases since the historic Paris Agreement was conceived in 2015.
Italy and the UK are joint hosts for the latest meeting, with Glasgow chosen as the venue.
The event is expected to attract thousands of leaders, delegates and visitors from across the world.
According to Police Scotland, the summit is “likely to be one of the largest policing operations in UK policing history”, with estimated costs of around £250 million.
Environmental campaigners and politicians have condemned the COP26 president’s ”lack of engagement” with the host nation, suggesting UK ministers are “underestimating” the significance of the conference.
Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland said: “Even if there is plenty of contact between officials, the top-level priorities need to come from the president of the COP, and that can’t happen if Alok Sharma is spending so little time actually talking to the key players in Scotland.
“It is particularly surprising that there has been so little contact with the Scottish Government and Glasgow City Council when the Covid situation means there are huge uncertainties about how exactly the COP and associated events will run in November.
“I’ve had more meetings about the COP with Alok Sharma than Police Scotland and that can’t be right.”
Scottish Greens co-leader and Glasgow MSP Patrick Harvie said Westminster needed to start tackling the climate emergency.
“It seems clear the UK Government has underestimated the importance of COP26 to Glasgow, Scotland, the UK and the world,” he said.
“Alok Sharma has made pronouncements about corporate sponsors, but failed to engage with the city and country that is actually hosting the world in November, and his government pays lip service to the policies and investments needed if we are going to lead by example going into the summit.”
Scottish Labour’s Paul Sweeney, regional MSP for Glasgow, has warned the lack of co-ordination could undermine the potentially world-changing impact of COP26 in tackling climate change and damage Glasgow’s opportunities as host for the “huge” event.
He said: “With the bulk of the SEC campus currently being used as a hospital and Covid-19 vaccination clinic, there needs to be robust planning and communication at all levels to ensure that the city is properly resourced and equipped to host the most important international gathering in the world this year.
“I will be asking Scottish Government ministers for their view on how preparations are going with the UK Government and that they should make an urgent statement to Parliament on the state of preparations.”
The SNP’s Gillian Martin, former convener of the Scottish Parliament’s environment, climate change and land reform committee, said Mr Sharma’s “lax” attitude echoed the way Westminster had treated Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland during the coronavirus crisis.
She said: “COP26 is the most important event hosted in Scotland in recent memory and will shape the world’s strategy in tackling the climate emergency, but the UK Government’s COP26 president, Alok Sharma, does not appear to be taking it as seriously as he should be.
“This compounds a problem we have seen with the UK Government’s lack of engagement with the devolved administrations during the pandemic.
“As COP26 president you would hope Sharma would ensure the event runs like clockwork, and that must include comprehensive engagement with those who have local expertise.”
A Police Scotland spokeswoman said planning for the event had been under way for more than a year.
She said: “We meet regularly with a number of partners, including the United Nations, UK government, Glasgow City Council and other emergency services to prepare for what will be a complex policing operation to support COP26 and to ensure a safe and secure event.”
A spokeswoman for Glasgow City Council said: ”Similar to previous large-scale events in the city, delivery partners are in regular contact within a robust governance structure that includes specific steering groups and operational workstreams, to progress and agree on plans around bringing COP26 to Glasgow.
“The leader of the council and COP26 president-designate Alok Sharma have met formally on three occasions, where they have discussed a range of topics, including operational issues and challenges as well as the opportunities for a COP legacy in the city.”
The UK Government said the COP president chaired a regular meeting with representatives from all devolved administrations, while officials in the COP26 Unit engage “regularly and extensively” with the relevant Scottish authorities and are “firmly integrated into COP26 governance structures at all levels”.
A spokesman said: “We are working closely and extensively with the Scottish Government and Scottish delivery partners, including Glasgow City Council and Police Scotland, to ensure the delivery of a safe, successful COP26 in Glasgow this November.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are proud to welcome COP26 to Scotland, knowing how important the summit is to accelerating international action on the climate emergency.
“We have been working very closely with the UK Government and partners, including Glasgow City Council and Police Scotland, to deliver a safe, secure and successful COP26 in November.”
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