Net Zero and UN Climate Summits: Scrutiny of Preparations for COP26 – interim report Contents

2Arrangements for COP26

Government ambitions for COP26

5.We are keen to explore and understand what the Government intends to achieve at COP26, and in particular, how ‘success’ will be measured at the end of the process. The COP26 President identified four areas of focus, including “a step change in mitigation, […] for countries to strengthen their adaptation plans, […] to get finance flowing, […] [and an] increase in international co-operation”.6 He explained that the international co-operation goal is underpinned by “five campaigns on nature, adaptation and resilience, clean energy, zero-emission vehicles and finance,” and that “I want this to be the most inclusive COP ever”.7

6.We welcome the Government’s headline ambitions for COP26 but note that no details have yet been provided on how success will be measured against each of these goals. We recommend that the headline ambitions be expanded to a clear list of measures, with a set of criteria attached to each in terms of how success will be measured. We ask that the Government share these details with this Committee in its response to this report.

The COP26 Unit and Resourcing

7.Planning and delivery of the summit is being led by the COP26 Unit, situated within the Cabinet Office. It is vital that the Unit has access to sufficient resources and expertise to be able to deliver COP26, as well as to effectively manage the associated diplomatic elements in the lead-up to it. CEO of the COP26 Unit, Peter Hill, told the Committee on 19 January that there are around 160 staff within the COP26 Unit, and that “we have a significant team […] working night and day on this”.8

8.Claire O’Neill outlined challenges she had faced while COP26 President, in relation to the set-up of the Unit. She explained that it was “exceptionally difficult for the Whitehall system to manage because, essentially, it descended into a whole series of turf wars about budget and influence that were being expressed both by Ministers and by civil servants.”9 However, Mr Hill indicated that the situation is no longer the case, stating that “there is a very significant number of Departments with standing teams working on this, co-ordinated in the ways you would expect across Government”.10

9.The sitting COP26 President told us that the diplomatic networks of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) are being put to use, and Mr Hill told us that “the Permanent Secretary of the FCDO and the Foreign and Development Secretary have both, in recent weeks and months, written to the [diplomatic] network to ensure that they understand the priority that [COP26] needs to be given”.11

10.We welcome the assurances from the COP26 President on the level of resourcing that is available to the COP26 Unit. It is vital that, as the largest summit ever organised in the UK and a critical event in the global response to climate change, COP26 is provided the greatest levels of resourcing and is held in highest priority across Government.

11.The success of COP26 is dependent on effective diplomacy. It remains unclear whether the COP26 Unit has been assigned a dedicated diplomatic team, nor the extent to which the diplomatic network is engaged further than having received correspondence from the Foreign and Development Secretary. We recommend that the COP26 President, alongside the Prime Minister and Foreign and Development Secretary, make it publicly clear that the full force of the British civil service is being appropriately applied to secure the desired outcomes from COP26 this November.

Parliamentary engagement

Select Committee hearings

12.Contributors to the POST Expert Survey emphasised that the Government needs to be more transparent about its aims for COP26, and that Parliament should be given the opportunity to adequately scrutinise COP26’s campaigns and outcomes.12 In his appearance before the Committee, the COP26 President told us “I am sure there will be more occasions during this year when I will be coming in front of you”.13

13.Since then we have been working closely with other select committees across the House to agree mechanisms to work jointly and collaborate closely on scrutiny of the UK Presidency of COP26. This will ensure effective, detailed and collaborative scrutiny over the coming months, with different Committees leading on different themes. As part of this collaborative process, the BEIS Committee intends to lead the questioning of the COP26 President on two occasions before the summit begins, and then early in 2022 in order to evaluate the success of COP and identify the appropriate next steps.

14.It is essential that Parliament has sufficient opportunity to question the Government’s preparations for the COP26 summit. Opening the process up to scrutiny is key not only to ensure accountability in the planning and preparations to facilitate a successful Presidency, but also to promote public and stakeholder confidence in the work of the COP26 Unit.

15.We welcome the COP26 President’s commitment to appear before the Committee. We invite him to confirm his willingness to appear before the Committee on the three occasions set out above, and to provide detail on any other approaches to facilitating Parliamentary scrutiny of COP26 preparations that he intends to take. This approach should be extended to all devolved legislators.

Wider parliamentary engagement

16.On 13 January the Prime Minister indicated that the COP26 President will answer questions on the floor of the House on preparations for COP26.14 On 19 January the COP26 President confirmed that he wanted to be “as collaborative as possible with parliamentary colleagues” across the House.15 He committed to make himself “available to answer questions and […] to give regular updates by way of statements to the House”.16 The COP26 President answered questions at the despatch box for the first time on 24 February 2021.17

17.We welcome the fact that questions to the COP26 President are now included on the regular rota of questions to Government Departments on the floor of the House. We welcome the opportunity to have questioned the COP26 President at the despatch box on 24 February, in his first appearance in this capacity.

18.Members from both Houses attended a cross-All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) briefing led by the COP26 President and his team in December 2020.18 He told us in oral evidence that “very shortly, I will be inviting chairs of the appropriate APPGs to meet me to see how we can work together”.19

19.We welcome the COP26 President’s engagement with APPGs and his plans to explore the potential for further briefings with these groups, which are a key link between parliamentarians and wider stakeholder groups. However, this should not be considered to be a substitute for public scrutiny by Parliament, which will be key to ensuring transparency and accountability.

Member Participation

20.In addition to scrutiny ahead of the summit, there is widespread interest from Members of the Committee and across both Houses in engaging with and attending COP26 in November. Members will be keen to maximise their engagement, whether with official discussions or the substantial programme of activities expected to take place in the blue and green zones, and wider parts of Glasgow. If in-person activities are restricted due to ongoing covid-19 restrictions, then strong engagement with any digital activities that replace these would also be anticipated.

Aligning parliamentary recess with COP26

21.The COP26 President told us that “we want to think about whether the half-term autumn recess this year can have some overlap with COP26, which will hopefully allow parliamentarians to go up to Glasgow”.20 We acknowledge the potential challenges that COP26 as a two-week summit could raise for the coordination of business in the House with Members’ access and welcome the COP26 President’s intentions to work with colleagues to align recess with COP26.

22.We recommend that the COP26 President work closely with the Leader of the House to align the autumn recess with one of the COP26 weeks in November. We note that the first week of COP26 also coincides with Parliament week and will support any initiative both to maximise the opportunities for Member participation at COP26 and public engagement with the process.

Member inclusion in the UK delegation

23.At each COP, every signatory brings a national delegation to represent it at official proceedings and to take part in negotiations. The composition of this delegation is decided by the executive, and the UK Government has conventionally taken the stance that its delegation should be comprised solely of Ministers and officials. This is not a position that is widely shared by other countries, as there exist many examples of past delegations that have included members of the national legislature who do not sit within government.21 The size of the UK delegation in recent COPs has been around 50 individuals, though it has been common for the size of a country’s delegation to increase substantially in a year in which the Presidency is held.22

24.Both the Prime Minister and the COP26 President have been questioned about the inclusion of Backbench and Opposition frontbench members in the UK’s delegation to COP26. When asked in the Liaison Committee evidence session on 13 January, the Prime Minister would not commit to a decision on the issue, stating that he did not “wish to allocate places on this or that committee or delegation right now”.23 In evidence to the Committee on 19 January, the COP26 President gave a similar response, stating that “no decisions have been taken on the issue. We will share any details when we have them. I take on the suggestion [to include non-ministerial Members in the delegation], but […] we are not allocating places in a Committee session like this”.24

25.The inclusion of backbench Members within the UK’s COP26 delegation would widen access to UK parliamentarians on a cross-party basis in the year of the UK’s Presidency. We recommend that the Government follows the precedent set by previous COP Presidencies, by expanding its delegation and widening access to parliamentarians. We recommend that the COP26 President engage with the Committee and other parliamentarians on the appropriate composition of the delegation and update the Committee as soon as any decision is made. The leaders and relevant ministers of devolved governments should also form part of the UK delegation.

Covid-19 readiness and digital participation

26.Despite the UK’s positive progress in deploying covid-19 vaccines, some questions remain around the extent to which COP26 will be able to take place as a physical event, as planned, in November 2021. It is evident that a substantial number of UK and international delegates could present health risks to those attending the conference as well as the wider populations in Glasgow and the UK. The COP26 President told us that protecting public health was “paramount” in planning,25 and Ros Eales, Chief Operating Officer, COP26 Unit, Cabinet Office, told us that the COP26 Unit is “working very closely with the Scottish Government to understand the public health protection measures that will be in place in various scenarios”.26

27.We welcome the assurances that public health is a priority for the COP26 Unit, while acknowledging the challenges presented by continuing uncertainties. We recommend that the UK Government engages on this issue constructively with the Scottish Government. The Government should share, in response to this report, the proposed health protection and contingency measures it will put in place in various scenarios relating to the continuing pandemic.

28.The COP26 President told us that “our clear intent is that we have a main conference that is in person” and highlighted that this is the preference of many of the most vulnerable countries.27 However, we heard calls to explore alternative arrangements for all or parts of the summit—both the negotiations and the wider schedule of events that normally takes place at COP—either by downscaling parts or replacing them with an online offer. Dr Jennifer Allan, Lecturer in International Relations, Cardiff University, told us that “what we need is clarity on how the meetings will be scaled back, who will be invited and how to ensure that inclusivity, given that fewer people will be coming to Glasgow than originally anticipated.”28 Claire O’Neill told us how it was her ambition to increase transparency in the negotiations by livestreaming them, but that this had been opposed by some.29

29.The COP26 President and Ms Eales confirmed that the COP26 Unit is exploring the use of digital technologies in the context of covid-19 readiness and increasing accessibility. The COP26 President said that “as part of trying to make this inclusive, we have learned over the past year that you can do things virtually”.30 Ms Eales highlighted the Climate Ambition Summit and UNFCCC climate dialogues, both hosted online in late 2020, saying that “there are some useful learnings and experiences that we can draw on as we are planning our event.”31

30.We welcome the stated aim of delivering an in-person summit and agree that this would allow for the most effective engagement with the widest number of countries—particularly those most at risk of climate impacts. However, the Government must also plan for the distinct possibility that large parts of the summit will have to be moved online or downscaled because of prevailing risks from covid-19. We recommend it outlines the steps it is taking during planning to make COP26 a success regardless of the format. We further welcome the intention to explore how digital events can increase participation in the summit and request further details as they become available.

31.We ask that the COP26 President sets out how the conference procedures will be adjusted to reflect the possibility that delegations from certain countries (where, for example, covid vaccination roll out has been slower or where new variants of the covid virus are discovered) may not be able to fully participate physically in the conference; and what steps will be taken to ensure equality of access to the conference between developed nations (where vaccine roll out has been quicker) and some developing nations (where vaccine roll out has been slower). In addition, in the scenario that country delegations are reduced in size, we ask the COP26 President to set out how other important stakeholders—such as city leaders and business leaders—will be invited to take part in proceedings if they are unable to physically be at the conference.

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12 BEIS Committee, Fourth Special Report of Session 2019–21, COP26: Principles and priorities—a POST survey of expert views, HC1000, page 33

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14 Oral evidence taken before the Liaison Committee on 13 January 2021, HC (2019–2021) 1144, Q89

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17 HC Deb, 24 February 2021, col 897

18 The briefing, hosted by the Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Group (PRASEG), allowed Members to question the COP26 President and his team, including officials and both the High-Level Action and Net Zero Business Champions, on the progress of the five COP26 campaigns and wider preparations.

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22 UNFCCC, Provisional list of registered participants, 2019, pages 582–585, and UNFCCC, Provisional list of registered participants, 2018, pages 579–582. For analysis, see Carbon Brief, Analysis: Which countries have sent the most delegates to COP25? accessed 5 February 2021.

23 Oral evidence taken before the Liaison Committee on 13 January 2021, HC (2019–2021) 1144, Q91

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Published: 5 March 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement