(November 12, 2022) For the pivotal global role of leading COP26 as its president, Alok Sharma stepped down from the post of secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy in former UK PM Boris Johnson’s cabinet.
The British-Indian politician devoted the last one year in its entirety towards working for climate action after negotiating with 200 nations to reach an agreement on the historic Glasgow Climate Pact. As the COP26 chief, he understood that the COP summit is not any other international summit but a significant step to tackle a global problem which holds great urgency.
Since 1995, the United Nations has been bringing together countries across the world for global climate summits – called COPs – that stands for ‘Conference of the Parties’ realising that climate change has gone from being a minor concern to a global priority.
The 26th summit in the series was named COP26 and the presidentship was handed over to UK for the period of 2021-2022. The summit had taken place in Glasgow, Scotland with British-Indian politician Alok Sharma as the president of the global confederation.
‘No Drama Sharma’
Handling the challenging role with élan, devoting countless hours to virtual meetings and globetrotting schedules, Sharma garnered praise for his balanced leadership and developed a reputation as being a calm and effective leader during his one-year tenure.
People sometimes describe me as ‘No Drama Sharma’.
This statement of Sharma became very popular with the media and the people at large.
Though he was not as popular a politician as his colleague Rishi Sunak when he was chosen for the coveted post, his calm demeanour was well recognised even in his early days in Britain’s political scenario.
Handing over responsibility to Egypt
A huge thank you to His Majesty the King for his inspiring leadership on #ClimateAction and support throughout the UK’s #COP26 Presidency which has stood on the foundations he has been building for decades https://t.co/TG0B810Efc
— Alok Sharma (@AlokSharma_RDG) November 4, 2022
“Last November, the world gathered at COP26 against a fractured and fractious geopolitics, as a once-in-a-century pandemic dragged mercilessly on,” said Alok Sharma, while delivering the ceremonial opening speech of COP27 summit which is taking place in Egypt between November 6 and 18 this year.
“Leaders recognised that despite their differences, (which are) often profound, cooperation on climate and nature is in our collective self-interest,” he added while touching upon the achievements of his tenure in 2021-2022. He concluded his presidential role, handing it over to Egypt’s foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry for the next one-year term. The presidentship will then move on to UAE at the end Egypt’s term in 2023.
Green growth climate warrior
After nearly three years as president-designate and a year of full-time presidentship Alok Sharma completely moulded himself in the role of COP chief, often calling himself a ‘green growth climate warrior’ much to the delight of his family. Talking to Financial Times, the 55-year-old had remarked at the beginning of his term last year, its “the only time my children have been vaguely excited about my job.”
Though Sharma’s tenure has concluded, managing climate change will be governing factor in his future career moves. “This is something I cannot let go off. I am fully invested,” he told Financial Times.
The outcome of Sharma’s tenure
During his tenure, Sharma initiated and got successful in coming up with Glasgow Climate Pact after intense negotiations with almost 200 countries. It required strenuous work and herculean globetrotting, but the ace British-Indian politician ended up doing a good job.
I am incredibly grateful to everyone who has helped get us here today in Glasgow
But this is a fragile win
We have to continue to work together to kept 1.5 alive
Read my full statement here on the outcomes of #COP26: https://t.co/SHP22t3bDc pic.twitter.com/8xSCZA7I10
— Alok Sharma (@AlokSharma_RDG) November 13, 2021
“Cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are still far from where they need to be to preserve a liveable climate, and support for the most vulnerable countries affected by the impacts of climate change is still falling far short. But COP26 did produce new “building blocks” to advance implementation of the Paris Agreement through actions that can get the world on a more sustainable, low-carbon pathway forward,” observed UN Secretary-General António Guterres, in a message posted on the United Nations’ COP26 site.
However, Sharma was not completely satisfied with the outcome of his tenure. He had expected the results to be better.
Sharma in UK’s politics
The chartered accountant by qualification who is also armed with a BSc degree in Applied Physics with Electronics, started his political career in 2006. He was elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) for Reading West in 2010. Having grown up in Reading, a town west of London, the politician calls himself ‘a Reading man.’ He managed support in his home town to get re-elected for the constituency in the 2015 general elections.
With a background in STEM, Sharma’s first role in UK’s political landscape was to serve as a member of the Science and Technology Select Committee between 2010 – 2011. Later, serving as the parliamentary private secretary (PPS) to Mark Hoban, the then financial secretary to the treasury for a year, he honed his politician’s skills.
Sharma was selected for a tenure as Conservative Party vice-chairman from 2012-2015. The Indian descent politician also served as the co-chairman of Conservative Friends of India in 2014.
Causes close to heart
His campaign for longer prison sentences for those convicted of death due to reckless driving and to reduce the number of first-class carriages on trains running between Reading and London to increase standard class capacity, brought him closer to the masses.
Following the death of two cyclists, Sharma had initiated a parliamentary debate on reckless driving and backed it with a petition, which had managed to gain more than 55,000 signatures. He has been committed to needs of kids in the sphere of education from the beginning of his political career.
The soft-hearted politician was tearful in parliament in 2016, when as housing minister, he described the heart wrenching experience of meeting the survivors of a devastating fire in London that had killed more than 70 people.
An assignment that brought the politician close to his native country was his appointment as the prime minister David Cameroon’s infrastructure envoy to India. During his tenure he had remarked, “The India story is very compelling to British investors who are all chasing yield.”
Thereafter, Sharma held some vital roles in the government, serving as minister of state for housing from 2017 to 2018 and as parliamentary under-secretary of state for employment from 2018 to 2019.
In 2019, former UK PM Boris Johnson appointed him as the Secretary of State for International Development. During the 2020 cabinet reshuffle, he was promoted to the post of secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, an office in which he served until 2021 before he was appointed to lead COP26. During his COP tenure Sharma retained his status as the member of the cabinet.
Inspiration of working for climate from family
The awakening towards managing climate change for a better future had been instilled in him at home, long before he was chosen as president-designate of COP. He considers his wife, two daughters and former US vice president Al Gore as the chief contributors to shaping his thought on global warming and climate policy.
Talking about mitigating effects of climate change he said in an interview smilingly:
When I was selected as president-designate for COP26, I got a text from my daughter with the BBC link of the announcement and accompanying that was the three-word message, ‘get it done’. I feel the pressure to make sure to collectively get it done.
Stints in Germany and Sweden during his early career in banking and finance also introduced him to adopt lesser harmful ways to live on this planet. At that time, UK was not as mindful as the other two countries, when it came to simple things like segregating garbage, making his Swedish wife cringe. Eventually, she gave him lessons on how to live better. On a flight one day, he watched Al Gore’s famous documentary, ‘An inconvenient Truth’ from start to finish. The film changed the way he saw climate change.
The indelible marks
As the saying goes, behind every successful man is a woman. In Sharma’s case, it was his wife who urged him to consider a career in politics, although he had by then settled into senior roles in banking and finance. His career thrived and Sharma was associated with organisations like Coopers & Lybrand Deloitte, and the Japanese firms, Nikko Securities and Enskilda Securities.
Both his daughters also cared passionately about the healthy environment and that too influenced the doting father’s outlook on things. Upon insistence of one of his vegan daughters, Sharma even gave up meat to cut his own emissions. Fatherhood in itself had an impact on how he wanted the planet to be for the future generation.
The India connection
Like the newly elected UK PM Rishi Sunak, Sharma took his oath in the House of Commons on the Bhagavad Gita in 2019. Born in the Taj Mahal city Agra, he had moved with his parents to Reading as a five-year-old. He grew up and studied in UK with a Hindu upbringing.