Boris Johnson has appointed his new Business Secretary, Alok Sharma, as the minister responsible for COP26, the vital UN talks, which will be hosted by Glasgow in November.
The former international development secretary is a surprise choice as President of the event as he is considered to have a poor voting record on environmental issues. He has also received donations from oil and gas industry firms.
He said: “The decision to put COP26 in the hand of the Business Secretary, a man who has repeatedly voted against climate action, confirms the worst expectations of Boris Johnson’s government. They see this conference as an opportunity to sell UK Plc, rather than a moment to face the need for deep economic change in the face of a global emergency.
“Alok Sharma could not be more representative of the hard right, business-as-usual agenda which has brought the world to the brink of a crisis. If COP26 is to result in anything meaningful, it will require the progressive voices around the world to take the initiative. The UK is clearly not one of them.”
In terms of his Commons record on green issues, Mr Sharma was present for 13 votes affecting climate and environmental issues, but voted positively on only two of them. He has also both opposed and favoured Heathrow expansion.
TheyWorkForYou, which rates MPs on their voting records, found he “generally voted against measures to prevent climate change” while in his record of MPs’ interests, he has received a donation of £15,000 from Offshore Group Newcastle, which makes platforms for oil, gas and wind energy companies.
Now he will have to smooth the currently rocky road to the conference. The UK and Scottish government are at loggerheads over the event, and the former energy minister Claire O’Neill was abruptly sacked from the role last week.
Mohamed Adow, director of energy and climate at thinktank Power Shift Africa, said: “It’s a relief to finally have a COP president in post. But now the hard work must start. For such a crucial summit it’s worrying that Alok Sharma takes up the reins with only nine months to go. He will need all the resources of government and the diplomatic service to ensure the UK COP is not a failure.
“This is the UK’s first real test post-Brexit and so far Britain has not looked like a serious player on the global stage. The eyes of the world are watching and the UK’s Commonwealth allies in Africa and around the world will be demanding an outcome that sees those of us on the front lines of the climate crisis protected.”
Rachel Kennerley, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth, added: “Can Alok Sharma serve as both business secretary and president of the UK’s biggest global climate summit? The presidency isn’t like a student picking up a few extra bar shifts, it’s about leading the world’s climate ambition during a crucial time for the environment. We cannot afford a part-time president.”
The job was turned down by former prime minister David Cameron, who is said to have been too busy, and former foreign secretary William Hague, who is believed to have had concerns about the role.