Climate change ‘biggest threat and opportunity’, says COP26 chief at James Martin Memorial Lecture

31 October 2023

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© David Fisher
President of COP26 in Glasgow 2021, the Rt Hon Sir Alok Sharma MP, discussed the ongoing climate crisis at the first James Martin Memorial Lecture held since the COVID-19 pandemic.

In his opening remarks, Sir Alok paid tribute to the School’s eponymous founder and his vision before identifying the ‘chronic threat’ of climate change as the ‘biggest threat and opportunity in the years ahead.’

He then discussed the time and effort needed to get almost 200 countries to agree to a wide-ranging climate agreement in Glasgow in 2021.

He said: ‘Getting this pact agreed was a huge Team UK effort. Brilliant civil servants, brilliant diplomats all around the world, all our partners in civil society and business; they were responsible in bringing all of this together.’

However, Sir Alok also described as a ‘terrible outcome’ International Energy Agency estimates of a 1.8 degree Celsius rise in global temperatures above pre-industrial levels if all climate pacts agreed at Glasgow were delivered.

He said: ‘The reality is unless we act with more urgency, the window to act is closing very fast.’

Sir Alok called for a stronger commitment to investing in renewable energy and electric cars as well as an understanding that energy security, national security and climate security were interlinked during tumultuous times across the world. He also emphasised the importance of engaging with the corporate community, adding that many businesses recognised working towards net zero was ‘the biggest economic opportunity of the century’.

Sir Alok ended his address by describing the upcoming COP28 as a ‘test’ to see whether countries were willing to put aside their differences in a challenging geopolitical environment to tackle climate change in a meaningful way. He also called on the UK to continue leading by example, saying Britain’s ability to effectively leverage its past net zero efforts when engaging other governments was a major reason why COP26 in Glasgow led to a substantial agreement on cutting emissions.

The Director of the Oxford Martin School Sir Charles Godfray then explored a number of topics with Sir Alok, including efforts to strike a climate change pact on the final day of COP26, the importance of ensuring unity in phasing out fossil fuels, and helping poorer countries adapt to climate change through significant financing. The lecture concluded with Sir Alok answering questions from the audience.