UK to host UN climate summit in 2020

Published:10 September 2019

Reactions to the announcement that the UK is to host the UN’s climate summit (COP26) in 2020; the spokespeople all sit on the Advisory Board of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU):

Lord Howard of Lympne, Former leader of the Conservative Party, said: “Margaret Thatcher was the first world leader to call for a United Nations Treaty on climate change and I was privileged, as Environment Secretary in 1992, to help the draft the Climate Change Convention. Nearly 30 years on Britain can once again lead the world on this most important of issues in hosting what will be a seminal summit.

The UN climate summit will be held at the Scottish Events Campus. Image: Donald Thompson, creative commons licence
The UN climate summit will be held at the Scottish Events Campus. Image: Donald Thompson, creative commons licence

"The Climate Change Act and the fact that the UK is the first major economy to set a net zero emissions target put us in a position of global leadership.

"Not only are the public rightly concerned and calling for strong action on climate change, there is growing unity among politicians across the political divide that the UK should host this important summit. We now have the opportunity to take a lead ahead of these complex negotiations and to show the world our pioneering climate science, our incredible innovation and British success in driving clean growth."

Michael Grubb, Professor of Energy and Climate Change, UCL, said: “Next year’s UN climate summit will be a critically important test of the commitment of countries around the world, including to the urgency that evidence-based policymaking demands.

“With every passing year, there is an ever-clearer picture of the risks posed by climate change and the actions we must take to address the problem. At the same time, the cost of many low-carbon options has been tumbling as they gain in scale, and the concerns of the young about their future become more vocal. All this has spurred countries like Britain to adopt a net zero target for 2050 and prompted UN Secretary General António Guterres to call on countries to develop carbon neutrality plans to present at his summit in New York this September.

“To be a truly effective host of the climate summit next year, the UK needs to harness and build on this growing momentum and match ambition with action. Next year is the first time that countries can strengthen and extend their pledges for emission reductions under the Paris Agreement, but net zero cannot be achieved with feelgood rhetoric and a magic wand of ‘expecto decarbonis’. The UK can build on a good track record: the government must take concrete action to demonstrate the next big steps at COP26."

Prof Joanna Haigh, Former Co-Director of the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London, said: "It is fitting that the UK should host next year’s UN climate summit, recognising government leadership on climate policy, particularly the recent commitment to eliminating greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Hosting the summit will allow the understanding and skills acquired by UK climate policy-makers over decades to be put to use in supporting the advance of global ambitions and targets on decarbonisation.

“But the government’s achievements in climate policy need to be matched by practical measures. While Britain's power sector has been decarbonising at a faster rate than any other country, other sectors such as transport, heating and agriculture are not keeping up. And support for schemes designed to help, such as the Green Deal, subsidies for installation of renewable energy systems and the Swansea tidal lagoon, have been curtailed or abandoned.

“Without immediate government action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions all the international agreements will just result in hot air.”

Ann Jones, Vice Chair of the National Federation of Women's Institutes (NFWI), said: “Climate change is one of the most serious threats our world faces, so we are delighted that by hosting this climate summit the UK has the chance to shine a spotlight on the need for stronger international action.

“WI members are seeing first-hand the impact of climate change on our environment, through unpredictable weather, increased flooding and changing seasons. They are working to raise awareness in their own communities of the need for action to safeguard our countryside, wildlife and livelihoods for the future. WI members want to see action to insulate our homes, make transport cleaner and protect our environment.

The UK has shown international leadership by adopting to a net-zero target, but our next prime minister must now make this commitment a reality by prioritising tackling climate change across government.”

Richard Black, ECIU director, said: “This is a real coup for the UK. The 2020 UN climate summit will be the most important such gathering since the Paris summit four years ago, and an occasion when world leaders will be expected to deliver on the promises they have all made.

“So the government will be taking on a major task and a major responsibility to deliver real progress. And the recently-set target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050 will enable ministers to use the UK as an example of what can be done – provided that by the time of the summit it has policies in place that put us on the road to net zero.

“The UK was the first major nation to call for a UN treaty on climate change, 30 years ago, when Margaret Thatcher told her fellow world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly that we needed a global solution to a global problem. So it’s about time that we hosted one of the annual summits. They’re the Olympic Games of climate change – and just like the London Games of 2012, a well-run summit with real progress will bring benefits at home and internationally.”

A background briefing on the 2020 UN climate summit is available here.