Alok Sharma is beginning to look like an emperor with net zero clothes

The International Energy Agency has called for the halting of all new investments in fossil fuel supplies. Alok Sharma, the UK’s president elect of Cop26, must now challenge his own government

<p>Alok Sharma, the UK’s president elect of Cop26</p>

Alok Sharma, the UK’s president elect of Cop26

Finally, somebody in a position of authority said it. We cannot achieve a net zero carbon economy, even by 2050, unless we immediately halt all new investments in fossil fuel supplies.

This was the stark recommendation from the International Energy Agency (IEA) in its report on the path to net zero issued. The agency is one of the most respected authorities on international energy policy and its pronouncements are used by governments and global fossil fuel corporations to plan future actions and investments.

No longer can banking and fossil fuel corporations hide behind greenwashing assertions of being committed to net zero 2050, while continuing to invest in new fossil fuel supplies over the coming decade.

A recent report by Greenpeace and WWF found that CO2 emissions from investments in 2019 by just 25 UK banks and investors equated to nearly twice the entire emissions of the UK economy. It is finally officially clear – there can be no new oil fields, no new gas fields and absolutely no new coal mines if we are to have any possibility of avoiding a catastrophic climate crisis. For anybody to argue otherwise is just another form of climate denialism or greenwashing.

No longer can the climate crisis establishment, whether it is the UNFCCC, the UN Special Envoy on Climate Finance Mark Carney, the UK presidency of Cop26 or the Climate Change Committee, claim that they are taking us on a path to net zero 2050, if there are no concrete agreements to immediately end all new fossil fuel supply investments.

I have long argued that the absolute minimum first step to achieving the net zero economy is the ending of all new fossil fuel investments. I have felt so strongly about this for years, I even organised a peaceful civil disobedience vigil in front of Mahatma Gandhi’s statue in Parliament Square as part of the Occupy Democracy protests in 2015, which called on the government to institute such a ban.

Three of us sat and chanted in a pop-up tent at the end of the hour-long vigil, which provoked 60 Metropolitan police to attack the vigil, rip our tent to shreds and arrest us for peacefully contravening the repressive Parliament Square by laws.

There was a deafening silence among the UK establishment about this landmark recommendation by the IEA, so I decided to go and ask them. I asked BP if, in the light of their boasting of a commitment to a “net-zero” 2050, will they support the IEA call for this immediate moratorium to their exploration and drilling of new oilfields?There was no response.

According to a report by Climate Tracker, oil corporations including BP are planning up to $2.2trn worth of investments in fossil fuels by 2030.

Next, I asked Barclays, who have invested $145bn since the Paris accord in new fossil fuel projects and who likewise boast about commitment to net zero 2050, if they would halt all new fossil fuel investments following the IEA report? There was no response.

The government’s advisers, the Climate Change Committee, refused to comment directly on the landmark report but inexplicably said that they had nothing to add to what they had said in their last year’s report, which called for the ending of new fossil fuel investments by 2050, 29 years from now.

A government spokesperson said: “We are working hard to drive down demand for fossil fuels, however there will continue to be ongoing demand for oil and gas, which is recognised by the independent Climate Change Committee.” It added that it would not be cancelling recently awarded exploration licences.

Interestingly, Ed Miliband, the opposition energy spokesperson, told this column that: “Labour is clear that the vast majority of fossil fuels should remain in the ground to meet our objective of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees.

“As part of our policy review, we are looking at what that means including future investments in fossil fuels in the UK. There is no credible response to the climate crisis that does not confront this problem head on.”

Lib Dem spokesperson Wera Hobhouse MP said: “We have to leave fossil fuels in the ground and invest in clean renewable energy instead.” She added: “Boris Johnson has recently started talking the talk on climate change, but he’s still refusing to take the real climate action we need.”

The SNP, despite saying twice that they would try to get an answer to me, failed to provide a response.

Finally, a spokesperson for the UN Secretary General told us that he supports the call for an end to new coal plants and fossil fuel investments.

The IEA’s call for an immediate ban on fossil fuel investments is a ringing endorsement for the calls for immediate urgent global action by the thousands of Extinction Rebellion volunteers arrested for peaceful civil disobedience and the millions of students marching in the global Climate Student Strikes.

The UK government must now outlaw all new fossil fuel exploration and oil fields in the UK and the Bank of England must pass regulations ending all such investments by UK institutions abroad. The Lloyds insurance market must not insure any new fossil fuel projects.

Alok Sharma, the UK’s president elect of Cop26, issued a bland statement noting the IEA’s report, but if he refuses to challenge his own government and the Cop26 itself to implement such an immediate ban, it will fatally undermine his authority to lead the conference, and he should step aside. He cannot be an emperor with net zero clothes.

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