BREAKING: Kwasi Kwarteng promoted to become Business Secretary, as Sharma to step up his focus on preparations for crucial Glasgow Summit
Number 10 has this evening announced a mini-reshuffle, confirming that Alok Sharma will become the full-time President of the COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow and as such will relinquish his role as Business Secretary.
Kwasi Kwarteng has been promoted from his role as Energy and Clean Growth Minister to step into Sharma’s shoes as Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy, while Anne-Marie Trevelyan has been appointed to take on Kwarteng’s Ministerial role and will be tasked with driving forward UK climate and energy policy and co-ordinating the delivery of the Prime Minister’s recently announced 10 Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution.
The move follows reports Sharma had urged Number 10 to make the COP26 position, which he has occupied for nearly a year, a full time role in the run up to the Glasgow Climate Summit this autumn.
The reshuffle will see Sharma move to the Cabinet Office from where he will continue as a full member of Cabinet, and will chair the Climate Action Implementation Committee to coordinate government action towards net zero by 2050 in the run up to COP26.
Sharma said he was “delighted to have been asked by the Prime Minister to dedicate all my energies to this urgent task”.
“The biggest challenge of our time is climate change and we need to work together to deliver a cleaner, greener world and build back better for present and future generations,” he added. “Through the UK’s Presidency of COP26 we have a unique opportunity, working with friends and partners around the world, to deliver on this goal.”
The move was broadly welcomed by businesses, green groups, and climate diplomats, many of which have privately argued the COP26 Presidency should become a full time role.
The decision to allow Sharma to relinquish his Secretary of State role and focus solely on the UN Summit represents the latest twist in the preparations for the high profile meeting.
Sharma was appointed to the role early last year after former COP26 President Claire O’Neill was controversially sacked, sparking accusations that Number 10 was ill-prepared for an event that is meant to finalise the Paris Agreement and deliver a major ramping up of global efforts to tackle the escalating climate crisis. Sharma’s appointment followed several days of speculation that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had wanted to secure a more high profile figure for the Presidency having reportedly approached former Prime Minister David Cameron and former Foreign Secretary William Hague. Last autumn, similar reports emerged suggesting Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May had been tapped up for the role.
However, Sharma is said to have impressed colleagues and counterparts from around the world since taking on the role and is understood to have made the case to Number 10 that taking on the Presidency as a full time role would increase the chances of a successful summit and help bolster the UK’s standing as a climate leader.
He now faces a host of challenges as the government looks to step up preparations for the event. On the diplomatic front, there is an urgent need to build relations with the incoming US administration and encourage scores of countries to deliver more ambitious climate action plans in the coming months. Similarly, the Summit hosts face a delicate balancing act as they look to secure an agreement on the rulebook for the Paris Agreement, after previous talks stalled amidst a row over carbon market regulations and concerns over climate financing commitments.
Meanwhile, the logistical requirements for the event continue to be complicated by the coronavirus pandemic and uncertainty as to how widespread and effective vaccine take up will be by the time tens of thousands of world leaders, officials, journalists, and campaigners from around the world are scheduled to descend of Glasgow.
Richard Black, senior associate at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) and a close observer of UN Climate Summits over the past decade, welcomed the move arguing that “allowing Alok Sharma to focus full-time on his COP26 role is a sensible decision, not least as it signals the government’s commitment to ensuring that the summit is a success”.
But he also warned Sharma would need support from across government to lay the groundwork for an event that is likely to have huge implications for national and global efforts to drive the economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis.
“Being President of COP26 needs a full-time focus, but Mr Sharma will also need the full backing of Number 10 and other key parts of Government, such as the Foreign Office,” Black said. “Although the pandemic makes a tough job even more challenging, the government should focus squarely on building diplomatic alliances as the French did ahead of the successful Paris summit, including with the smallest and least developed nations whose support will be critical for achieving a positive summit outcome. With the election of Joe Biden as the next US President and China’s recent carbon neutrality pledge, the diplomatic opportunities have opened up for more ambitious action on climate change. Mr Sharma’s job will be to seize them.”
Greenpeace UK’s head of politics Rebecca Newsom added that there was a “wealth of diplomacy required” from Sharma and his colleagues over the next 10 months in the run up to COP26. “Alok Sharma has no time to waste stepping up to the challenge ahead, and he needs the full backing of the whole government, right up to the top,” she said.