Indian-origin Alok Sharma was on Thursday named the new UK minister in charge of the crunch UN climate talks to be hosted by Britain this November. Agra-born Sharma, promoted to the post of Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Cabinet reshuffle, will take charge of the crucial summit ‘COP26’ as its former president was removed amid controversy just weeks ago.
Claire Perry O’Neill, a former energy minister, had openly criticised Johnson soon after her sacking, saying the UK prime minister “doesn’t really get” climate change.
Sharma, 52, has a tough role ahead of him as the man in charge of the UK’s climate strategy and also bringing about global consensus on some contentious issue around greenhouse gas emissions at the summit in Glasgow. The conference plans also have been hit by tensions between London and the devolved Scottish government in Edinburgh, led by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, a vocal Johnson critic who is demanding a new independence referendum.
“The Scottish government needs to work with us to make sure it is a successful summit,” a Downing Street spokesperson said.
Sturgeon has insisted the two governments are working well together on COP but Sharma will undoubtedly face some political push and pull in this new complex post.
He steps into a role previously turned down by former Prime Minister David Cameron, who said he believed a member of the Cabinet should take on the role. Sharma’s previous Cabinet position as Secretary of State for International Development, in charge of the Department for International Development (DfID), is seen as good grounding for the COP26 charge. Previous COP summits have all tended to be led by the host government’s most prominent minister with a relevant portfolio, usually the environment minister.
Brought up in south-east England, the trained accountant and former banker has served in a number of junior ministerial roles since his entry into politics in 2010, including as fire minister. The MP for Reading West was elevated to the Cabinet level as DfID minister by Johnson in July last year and has reportedly been promoted further as business minister because the government plans to modify DfID to work closer with the trade department.
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