The UK’s former clean growth minister Claire Perry has been appointed “president” of next year’s UN climate talks, in an early move as the country awaits approval as host of the critical 2020 meeting.
Perry left her energy and climate brief to take on the role as part of a UK government reshuffle, after Boris Johnson was elected prime minister by Conservative Party members.
The UK is overwhelming favourite to run Cop26 after striking a deal with its main rival Italy. Under a joint proposal, the UK would hold the main summit and Italy would host a preparatory meeting known as the pre-Cop, as well as a youth event.
Turkey has also expressed an interest in presiding over the conference. It is the turn of a grouping of western European and other countries to host, with a decision due before the end of this year’s climate talks in Chile in December.
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Veterans of the negotiations welcomed Perry’s provisional appointment.
Christiana Figueres, former head of UN Climate Change and architect of the Paris Agreement, said in a tweet she was “thrilled by the news”, adding: “Cop26 is in good hands”.
Laurence Tubiana, CEO of the European Climate Foundation, tweeted: “Very happy and excited to see [Claire Perry] leading a very important Cop. We are with you!”
As energy and climate minister, Perry championed the “powering past coal alliance”, a coalition of national and local governments and businesses committed to phasing out unabated coal power, together with Canadian environment minister Catherine McKenna.
At home, Perry introduced a clean growth strategy to decarbonise the UK economy, including heavy industry, and backed the introduction of a net zero emissions target. At the same time, she defended government support for fracking, in the face of protests.
Next year’s climate meeting is considered to be one of the most important since the 2015 Paris summit and the presidency has a key role to play in ramping up ambition.
Countries are due to submit updated climate plans to bridge the gap between national pledges and the overall goal of the Paris Agreement to hold global warming “well below” 2C. Existing commitments put the world on course for more than 3C.
Along with France, the UK last month became one of the first major economies to legislate a target of net zero emissions by 2050. But its policies are off track to meet the goal – and indeed its previous target – official government advisers at the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) have warned.
In a report earlier this month, the CCC urged the government to strengthen its climate policies or risked being “embarrassed” as a likely Cop26 host.
Johnson, who gave his support to the UK’s net zero target, is now under pressure to come up with robust policies to implement it.
A controversial figure in British politics who came to power promising to deliver Brexit, Johnson’s record on climate change is mixed. He has flirted with climate science denial, on several occasions questioning the extent of human-induced climate change.
In December 2015, after the Paris deal was signed, Johnson wrote in a column for the Daily Telegraph: “Whatever is happening to the weather at the moment, it is nothing to do with the conventional doctrine of climate change.”
More recently as foreign secretary, Johnson pledged to “lobby the US at all levels to continue to take climate change extremely seriously”.
In his first speech to the UK parliament on Thursday, Johnson said: “Our kingdom in 2050 will no longer make any contribution whatsoever to the destruction of our precious planet brought about by carbon emissions. Because we will have led the world in delivering that net zero target.”
In the government reshuffle, Andrea Leadsom was appointed secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, with responsibilities including tackling climate change.
Leadsom is not entirely new to the brief. She previously served a short stint as energy minister between 2015 and 2016 and was environment secretary the following year in Theresa May’s government.
Standing as a candidate in her party’s leadership contest earlier this year, Leadsom said tackling climate change was “a top priority”. She backed the net zero emissions target and said “politicians need to show leadership and decisive action”.
Kwasi Kwarteng was named energy minister in the same department, but it was not immediately clear who would cover the clean growth brief, previously a significant part of Perry’s role.
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