Alok Sharma ‘overloaded with day job’ to juggle UN summit role

By Jessica Parker
BBC political correspondent

Publishedduration33 minutes ago

Business Secretary Alok Sharma lacks the “bandwidth” to head a climate conference alongside his cabinet job, MPs and climate experts have warned.

Mr Sharma was appointed president of next year’s COP26 summit in February, after the sacking of former climate minister Claire O’Neill.

But one senior Tory MP said a bigger profile “grand fromage” was required.

A government spokesperson said Mr Sharma had been engaging with over 40 countries ahead of the event.

Former Conservative PM David Cameron turned down the chance to head the conference, which is due to take place in Glasgow in November next year.

Ex-foreign secretary Lord Hague was also involved in discussions, but will not be taking on the presidency either.

Former Foreign Office minster Tobias Ellwood, who chairs the Commons defence committee, said the UK needs a “grand fromage” to host the event.

Someone, he argues, who can “march into any door of any president or prime minister” and is “free from the machinations of Westminster”.

“It’s got to be the likes of David Cameron, William Hague, somebody of that order that is familiar with the international scene,” he added.

Mr Ellwood said that now the US President-elect Joe Biden had appointed former presidential nominee John Kerry as his climate change envoy, the UK should look for someone with similar “gravitas.”

What is COP26?

image copyrightGetty Images

  • An International UN climate conference to be held in Glasgow
  • Originally scheduled for November 2020, it was delayed by a year due to Covid
  • COP26 is expected to be the biggest summit that the UK has ever hosted
  • It’s been described as the most significant climate event since Paris in 2015

Richard Black, director of the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit, told the BBC while Mr Sharma’s experience as a former international development secretary meant he had “an understanding of the developing world”, he had so far “struggled to devote enough time to COP26”.

“I wonder how he will find the bandwidth next year to fully engage with the climate process alongside helping businesses through Covid and Brexit.”

In the run up to the landmark Paris Agreement in 2015, the then French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, held the COP Presidency.

“The story goes that he met every single delegation chief before the summit even happened,” said Mr Black.

‘Natural communicator missing’

Nick Mabey, the chief executive of climate change think tank E3G, and an unpaid advisor to the UK government on COP26, described the summit as a “political litmus test” of the UK’s international ambitions.

He added that while Alok Sharma was said to be “perfectly good at the hard yards of international diplomacy,

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