Scrutiny by committees will help ensure COP26 is the success we need it to be
In coming months, with the eyes of the world on the UK and the COP26 conference, it is crucial that government policies are aligned to ensure the conference’s success.
Parliamentarians serving on select committees have a crucial part to play in the nation’s governance; we hold the government to account for its policies and offer solutions to enhance policymaking. In coming months, with the eyes of the world on the UK and the COP26 conference, it is crucial that government policies are aligned to ensure the conference’s success. While the buck stops with COP President Designate Alok Sharma, select committees have a key role to play in ensuring successful delivery of COP.
In just over six months, delegates and global leaders from all corners of the world are due to descend on Glasgow for the 26th UN Climate Conference, Covid permitting. The importance of this assembly of global leaders to the future of the planet can hardly be overstated, especially having been postponed a year as a result of the pandemic. COP26 represents a deadline for the parties to the Paris Agreement, concluded at COP21 in 2015, to deliver on their commitments made in that agreement.
I welcomed the Prime Minister’s decision to establish a full-time cabinet position for Alok Sharma as COP President Designate: the task ahead of him requires his full attention. Supported by the COP26 Unit in the Cabinet Office and by dedicated COP units in several other departments, his task is twofold: to use the UK’s diplomatic presence to achieve the Presidency’s goals, and to ensure that UK climate policy is fully consistent with the measures the Presidency is pressing other nations to adopt.
Climate policy, and the conduct of the COP Presidency throughout 2021, has implications for the whole of Whitehall
He has the unstinting, though not uncritical, support of the House in this task, as was made clear in the Estimates Day debate before Easter on the government’s preparations for COP26 which Darren Jones, Chair of the Business Enterprise and Industrial Strategy Committee, Bim Afolami, Chair of the Parliamentary, Renewable and Sustainable Energy APPG, and I secured.
Select committees are accustomed to looking back at implementation of policies and considering current policy initiatives. It is more unusual for them to look forward. Scrutiny of preparations for delivering the London 2012 Olympics was an innovation at the time. Shining the spotlight of parliamentary scrutiny on preparations for COP26 is intended to help ensure success.
Climate policy, and the conduct of the COP Presidency throughout 2021, has implications for the whole of Whitehall. On the Committee Corridor, a multitude of select committees have strands of work examining departmental policies relating to climate action and COP26. It therefore made sense for these committees to work together, creatively and flexibly, to establish a unique framework for committee scrutiny of the UK’s preparations for the summit. Without exception, my fellow chairs responded warmly and constructively to my proposal for collaboration, informally dubbed the “Committee on COP26,” as did the President Designate and his team.
The first of these sessions was held on 11th March, when the Environmental Audit Committee, and chairs and members from nine other committees, quizzed Sharma and a team of officials on the machinery of government supporting the Presidency. From now until the end of 2021, the committees engaged in this collaboration will take turns in leading evidence sessions with the President Designate, or another minister engaged in COP26 preparations, and senior Presidency officials and advisers.
It was heartening that in his comprehensive written statement to the House on 18th March, Alok Sharma recognised the vital and constructive role that scrutiny in the House of Commons plays in improving Government policy.
Preparation for regular committee scrutiny, combined with preparation of answers to oral and written questions, ought to ensure that the right questions continue to be asked and should encourage departmental objectives and delivery to be fully aligned behind the government’s objectives for the Presidency.
Philip Dunne is the Conservative MP for Ludlow and chair of the Environmental Audit Committee.