The Government is “working very hard” to ensure the COP26 climate conference can go ahead in person, its president Alok Sharma has said.
The former business secretary was asked in Parliament about contingency plans should the conference in Glasgow need to be moved online.
Sharma told the Commons: “We are working very hard to ensure that we deliver an in-person COP which allows all countries to participate on an equal footing.
“This is incredibly important as many parties feel strongly that negotiations must be in person.
“We continue to explore how technology and other innovations can make the summit more resilient, safe and inclusive.”
Reports have suggested the conference, due to take place in November, could be held virtually amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Climate activist Greta Thunberg has said she does not plan to attend the conference and suggested it be postponed.
The Labour chairman of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, Darren Jones (Bristol North West), asked Sharma about contingency plans, saying: “It’s reported in the papers today that a diplomatic source from the British Government says, and I quote ‘no one in Europe thinks it’s going to happen and the US is increasingly sceptical it can happen without delay’.
“I support the COP president aims for a physical conference of national delegations, but of course many stakeholders are politicians, business leaders, NGOs and others.
“When will the Cabinet Office produce the contingency plans to give clarity to stakeholders about how engagement can take place in November?”
Sharma responded: “I would just say to him that COP26 has already been postponed by one year and the urgency of the climate crisis has not abated.
“I don’t sense any desire amongst parties for a further postponement and we’re working very hard to ensure that we have an in-person physical COP, taking into account, of course, any Covid-related contingencies.”
The SNP also asked about “wider virtual participation” alongside in-person attendance.
Answering the question from Martyn Day (Linlithgow and East Falkirk), Sharma said: “I want this to be the most inclusive COP ever and absolutely we are looking at how we can expand digital programmes to allow for more virtualisation, and I hope at the appropriate time I’ll be able to update the House further.
“Ahead of COP26 we will publish a comprehensive net-zero strategy.”
Speaking in the same questions session, shadow business secretary Ed Miliband asked Sharma if the UK was “telling others to act but not doing so ourselves” when it comes to green stimulus.
Mr Miliband said: “The sum total of the Chancellor’s measures here in the UK promise just £12bn of green spending over a decade and he’s already cut a billion pounds from that.”
He said UK investment is “60 times smaller” than US President Joe Biden’s green infrastructure plan, adding: “Isn’t it a very significant challenge for COP26 that, when it comes to a green stimulus, we’re telling others to act but not doing so ourselves?”
Sharma responded: “When it comes to Government money, what we’ve also done is ensure that we leverage in private sector money.
“This isn’t just about Government money, it is also leveraging private sector money, and ultimately this is about not just cutting emissions but also creating jobs for constituents across the UK.”