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Nicola Sturgeon will play an “important part” in the international climate summit taking place in November, COP president designate Alok Sharma has said.
Speaking to MSPs on Holyrood’s net zero committee on Thursday morning, Sharma said all first ministers would be involved in the summit as the UK government wanted to take a “whole of UK approach”.
It follows reports that the Cabinet Office was seeking to sideline Sturgeon at COP26 over fears it would become an “advert” for Scottish independence.
But asked about such reports, Sharma said all devolved administrations were being involved in the planning of the event via an inter-ministerial group and official-level engagement.
He also confirmed ministers from devolved governments would be part of the UK delegation to the summit.
On the first minister specifically, he said: “Prime Minister Johnson has said he wants all the first ministers to play an important part… We want this to be a whole of UK approach and I’m sure that shortly you will hear more from the UK Government on this. This is something the Prime Minister leads on.
“In terms of the involvement of others in government from the devolved administrations, there has always been the precedence that as part of the UK delegation we also have representation from ministers in the devolved administrations. That will absolutely happen again.”
International leaders will be attending the conference in Glasgow from 31 October until 12 November as part of talks to meet the ambitions set out in the Paris Agreement.
Sharma said the “overarching message” of the conference would be that keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees was still within reach “if countries act now”.
A number of countries have not yet published their nationally determined contributions – how much and how quickly they plan to reduce emissions by – and Sharma said the UK government was urging all the G20 nations in particular to do so before COP26.
While the UK had said out its own targets, the strategy for reaching net-zero has not yet been published. Sharma confirmed the UK Government would publish this before the summit.
He also said efforts would be made to ensure the commitment to set up a $100bn climate finance fund was met, which he added had become a “matter of trust” for developing nations.
MSPs also raised questions about the oil and gas sector, with Sharma insisting the government has been “pretty clear” on the matter, pointing to plans to introduce a climate compatibility checkpoint before the end of 2021 for new licenses.
This means consent for exploration will only be given if it can be done in a way that meets wider climate objectives – though some environmental campaigners have critcised this approach, instead calling for a ban on all new licenses.
Labour MSP Monica Lennon asked whether older licenses, including for the controversial Cambo oilfield, would be reassessed in light of climate ambitions.
She added that rejecting the request to expand Cambo would “send a strong signal” ahead of COP.
But Sharma ducked the question, stating this was a “domestic policy issue that sits with BEIS [the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy]”.
The director general of net zero strategy within BEIS, Lee McDonough, added that an environmental impact assessment and public consultation would be conducted before a final decision was taken on whether to provide consent for production at Cambo.
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