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Climate Change Is The Biggest Security Risk Facing The World, Says COP26 President

Climate change is "the biggest security risk for the world", but it has the potential to bring peace between warring countries, said the president of COP26.

It was also vital that every nation "steps up to the plate" to ensure that the Earth is not desolated by the ravages of man-made emissions, Alok Sharma said in an interview with the Abu Dhabi-based English language daily 'The National'.

He stressed that while there are challenges, there are also opportunities presented by climate action, from innovative technological solutions to multilateral co-operation.

"This is an opportunity for countries to reimagine their economies," Sharma said. But it will require funding.

While climate change initiatives were still billions short of the promised $100 billion a year for poor countries to finance green growth, it was now evident that trillions of dollars are needed, much of it from the private sector, in addition to sovereign wealth funds and government spending.

Sharma highlighted the UAE’s leadership on climate action, which includes investing billions in renewables in the UK and a number of other countries. Sharma visited Abu Dhabi last April where he attended the Regional Climate Dialogue led by the UAE’s special envoy for climate change, Dr Sultan Al Jaber.

Asked if the current fallout from climate change could be a source of peace, uniting people in conflict, particularly in the Middle East, Sharma replied: "People have understood that climate change is an issue which does not respect borders. And I would make the case that from a security perspective, climate change is the biggest security risk for the world. Whether it is rising sea levels, food availability or forced migration. That’s why it's vitally important that every country steps up to the plate at Cop26."

Uniting behind a common course was what has drawn almost 200 countries and 100 world leaders to the Glasgow Cop26 (Conference of the Parties) in November, regarded as the most important since the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The key achievement in the 2015 deal was to restrict temperature rises to 1.5 degrees C. "People have also talked about ‘1.5 to stay alive’," said Sharma during the interview at his office in 9 Downing Street. He then reeled off a series of numbers required to keep 1.5 C "within reach" as carbon emissions continue to rise.

"We have to cut emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 and that tells you how stark the situation is," he says. "It needs everyone to act. Every single nation has to come forward with ambitious plans to cut emissions by 2030, but then also set out net-zero commitments by the middle of the century."

"We want to ensure that we close off all the final rules from the Paris Agreement, there are a number of outstanding issues after six years and we really need to resolve it".

Renewable energy was central to getting emissions down and Sharma praised the UAE for its policies that included signing a Memorandum of Understanding on climate action with the UK last Friday.

Both government and private sector investment were key in helping developing nations decarbonise while growing their economies.

"How do you support these countries to transition to renewables, rather than going down the fossil fuel route?" he said.

"I know that the UAE has been supporting countries as part of making that energy transition, in addition to sovereign wealth funds investing also. That is what we need to drive forward and make the case of green growth."

Britain had also demonstrated that "green growth is possible" in expanding its economy by 80 per cent yet cutting emissions by 40 per cent in the last three decades. Much of that was through massive investment in the offshore wind sector, which with the UAE’s investment would quadruple in size by 2030 as the biggest in the world, leading to a welcome "tumble" in consumer prices.

A similar boost could happen in the fossil-fuel-reliant Middle East.

"It has been incredibly encouraging what the UAE has been doing in terms of solar," he said. "There is a real opportunity for Gulf nations to lead this renewable energy transition because they have a lot of sun and wind," said the MP, who also holds a place in the Cabinet.

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