HomePolitical leadershipWhere failure is not an option: four tests for the Glasgow climate summit

Where failure is not an option: four tests for the Glasgow climate summit

This is an important year for the climate, culminating in the UN COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. The task for this conference is to close the emissions gap to arrest global warming; build the world’s resilience, especially as we recover from the Covid pandemic; and agree measures to compensate poorer countries for the damage climate change is already causing. All the evidence shows that time is running out to turn the tide on the climate crisis. So, as the hosts of COP26, as well as the G7, the spotlight is on the UK government to lead international efforts on climate change in 2021. That work began last year, it must now be significantly increased, starting today, in the run up to COP26, and will need to last well beyond the Glasgow summit in November.

Green Alliance will be working with partners to influence the complex policy and political landscape to ensure we meet this significant year head on. Here we set out four tests for the government that we will be using to guide our climate advocacy this year.

Leadership: deliver real progress towards the 1.5oC Paris commitment
In the run up to the Glasgow summit, countries across the world must step up their climate action, including by greening their recovery plans post Covid. As hosts both of the UN climate summit and the G7, climate diplomacy must be a top priority for our government. We can no longer afford the yawning gap between the ambition of the 2015 Paris Agreement and the commitments made by countries since then. Following the US election, the job to close it looks easier, but considerable hurdles remain, including the risk of locking in dirty economies as countries recover from the pandemic. Only by Boris Johnson leading from the front, building bridges at home and abroad, can these be overcome.

Along with many partner organisations, we will be looking to the UK government, and in particular the prime minister, chancellor and foreign secretary, to use every opportunity to push for increased action by global leaders and deliver an ambitious agreement in Glasgow.

Credibility: a UK net zero strategy
To persuade the rest of the world to decarbonise, the UK’s own climate plan must meet the scale of the challenge. The way out of the economic crisis triggered by the pandemic is to invest in the transition to net zero. This is a major area of work for Green Alliance this year, with our Cutting Carbon Now programme,  our green renewal project and a new focus on decarbonising transport.

The UK has set an ambitious 2030 Nationally Determined Contribution (its plan to cut emissions). But targets do not in themselves necessarily cut emissions. As the UK government prepares its new ‘net zero strategy’, all eyes are on Number 10 and the Treasury, alongside the all important housing and transport departments, to turn aspirations into action.

This strategy should come well in advance of the Glasgow summit and put us firmly on track to achieving net zero by 2050. This will need significant investment and comprehensive policies, and it must be done in a way that brings people along in the transition. It is also crucial that the goal is not undermined by continued investment in high carbon infrastructure.  

Climate justice: make good on promises made to those on the frontline of the climate crisis
With Covid exacerbating global inequalities, wealthy countries must step up their support for the poorer countries most affected by, and least responsible for, the climate crisis. That means bolstering and renewing the $100 billion goal set in the Paris Agreement and ensuring that 50 per cent of the finance is used to enable adaptation to the climate change impacts that are already locked in. Technological support for decarbonisation should be made available to all. Debt should be cancelled and new ways found to compensate poorer countries for the loss and damage of climate change caused by wealthier nations.

This is a challenging agenda, particularly in the economic context, but it must not be shirked. To show that it understands its importance, the government should reverse the recent cut to overseas aid, which will make it harder for poorer countries to find the resources to tackle climate change.

Nature: make the connection between the state of nature and the climate crisis
We have been reminded over the past year of the inextricable link between human health and the health of the natural world. The destruction of nature accelerates global warming, but nature is also our best ally in protecting ourselves from its worst impacts: forests, soil and peatlands are powerful carbon sinks. This year, we must raise global awareness of the need to preserve and enhance nature to ensure our very survival.

The UK should use the landmark COP15 biodiversity summit, to be hosted by China later this year, as well as the Glasgow climate conference, to make the link between the nature and climate crises. It can do this primarily through ensuring that domestic delivery does not continue to lag behind its global leadership ambitions.

We have to succeed
These four tests would be a challenge for any government at any time, never mind in the midst of a major public health crisis. But the UK has a strong track record of climate leadership and the prime minister has committed to hosting a successful climate conference. We will be doing all we can to help, and to hold the government’s feet to the fire to deliver on these priorities.

We look forward to working throughout this important year with our partners in civil society, the business community and politicians of all stripes, to make sure 2021 is the historical turning point it needs to be.


Written by

Executive director of Green Alliance ( and Chair of the Greener UK board (

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