By Francesca Merlo
“A child that is born today, before that child has completed his or her primary education, the future of the planet will effectively be set”. This is Alok Sharma’s alarming message. As Great Britain and Italy prepare to host COP26 in November, Alok Sharma, President of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, warns that this year is going to be absolutely vital, precisely because “the next ten years are going to matter”.
President Sharma notes that since the world came together in Paris “we have seen some action”. At the same time, when the United Kingdom and Italy's joint presidency of COP26 was first announced, less than 30% of the world economy was covered by a net-zero target. “That figure has now become 70%”, and of course “we want other countries to make that commitment as well”.
In recent months, continues President Sharma, all G7 countries are now committed to 2030 emission reduction targets of net-zero by 2050.
Pope Francis’ role in the fight
Combatting climate change is a central concern in the pontificate of Pope Francis, who has even described the destruction of our planet as a sin. For President Sharma, “When the Holy Father and other religious leaders speak they do so with moral authority and it is right and proper that government leaders around the world sit up and listen to that. “
The Vatican has also committed to zero-emissions by 2050. President Sharma visited the State on Tuesday, where he spoke with Cardinal Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin; Secretary for Relations with States Archbishop Paul Gallagher; and Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. “There was a very clear and unified message that came from them”, says President Sharma: “This is an issue that matters and one that they are channelling through Catholic organisations throughout the world”.
Our young, desperate leaders
But there are other voices with this same message, including young people, for whom Pope Francis fights to give a voice, and who fight to be heard. President Sharma says it is “vital” that we listen to these young people. “I have committed that on every trip I do outside the UK, I will always meet civil society and youth”, adding that “this is the first COP in which we have a civil society and youth advisory group”. Along with young people at this year’s COP are faith representatives and indigenous people, all coming together “to advise me on how we ought to be planning for COP26”.
"What we do", says President Sharma, "is of course for every generation", but “we also have to think very carefully about what we are doing about the legacy we leave for future generations". He repeats, "The next ten years is our best chance to fix this", adding that young people bring an urgency to this discussion that cannot be ignored.
Along with young people, there is an opportunity for us to work more closely as well with faith groups around the world. There are 1.3 billion Catholics around the world, notes President Sharma. If we can encourage them all to listen to the Pope, to the young people, when they stress the importance of taking climate change as a key priority “in terms of how they conduct their lives, I think that would make a big contribution to tackling climate change".
President Sharma notes that working together, besides including different nationalities, ages and ethnicities, must also include different faiths. “There is always an opportunity for us to work more closely with faith groups around the world”, he notes.
“There is a clear growing realisation that climate change knows no borders and it is on all of us to work together to ensure that we are playing our part on having ambitious commitments but also then the actions that go with it”, he says.
An upcoming event, organised together with the British Embassy to the Holy See, and “colleagues in the Vatican”, aims at doing just that, says President Sharma. This event, planned for later this year “will bring together leaders of all faiths as well as scientists”. President Sharma says he hopes this will allow even more amplification of this issue around the world, “particularly amongst those of faith”.
There is work to be done, says President Sharma, and "I am asking countries to commit to zero-emission by 2050” because “even if we stopped all emissions tomorrow, we would still have to deal with the climate change that’s taking place”.
Promises vs reality
“To be able to deliver on some of the climate action we need finance, and it is developing countries in particular that need support”, says President Sharma. Some years ago, donor countries committed to providing a total of 100 billion dollars a year to support these developing countries, says President Sharma. But, he notes, "When I go around the world, developing countries always raise the same concern". He explains that "they note that ‘we are looking for you to raise, collectively 100 billion dollars to support us. That is taking time and yet what you have shown in the face of the global pandemic is that you can raise trillions of dollars to support your economies very, very quickly’."
This, concludes President Sharma, needs to be evolved... “very, very quickly”.