Alok Sharma faces embarrassment on world stage as Environment Bill won’t be ready for Cop26

Alok Sharma is facing embarrassment on the world stage at November’s Cop26 climate conference because the Government is unlikely to have passed its flagship Environment Bill in time for the summit, The Telegraph can reveal.

Ministers had hoped the bill – which runs to some 270 pages and includes dozens of new commitments on the environment – would receive royal assent by October 31, when the conference begins.

But following a series of successful attempts to amend the Bill in the House of Lords, Downing Street has decided to delay it entirely if the changes cannot be fought off in time.

The Telegraph understands Mr Sharma, who has spent the past eight months flying around the world securing international cooperation on measures to be agreed at this year’s conference, has been pushing for it to be completed before world leaders arrive in Glasgow.

Alok Sharma’s destinations this year

But that would have meant agreeing to amendments passed in the Lords, including one that would force ministers to declare a climate emergency – a key demand of Extinction Rebellion.

“The sort of people who want to make the most out of Cop would like to politically say that the Environment Bill is this great landmark achievement, and therefore Britain is delivering on all that stuff around the time we do Cop,” a source said.

“The mood in No10 is now about getting a good Bill rather than getting a Bill which is sorted by Cop. Obviously, the Government is not going to agree to Extinction Rebellion-written amendments.”

The decision follows a speech by Lord Goldsmith, an environment minister, in which he warned that delaying the Bill beyond Cop26 would “weaken our hand in these extraordinarily important climate and environment negotiations”.

Passing the Bill before the conference would “galvanise the rest of the world to step up,” he said. “Any peers who are thinking of delaying its introduction to embarrass the Government should think very carefully about the price we will all pay as a result.”

Joe Biden, the US President, will be among dignitaries coming to Glasgow to agree on the implementation of the Paris Agreement in 2015, which committed countries to limiting global warming to less than 2C.

Sharma ‘in a difficult position’

One source said delaying the Bill “would put Alok in quite a difficult position” with world leaders, who expect the UK to demonstrate its own commitment to the environment in law.

The Bill has already been delayed three times because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Other amendments the Government would have been forced to accept if it did not delay the Bill include a bid to remove the new environmental regulator entirely from ministers’ control.

Peers and green groups have argued that the regulator will be toothless because ministers can set its budget and appoint members to the board.

The Bill will also introduce a new legally binding target on biodiversity, which will commit the Government to reversing the decline of species extinction.

A representative for Mr Sharma declined to comment, but a government source sought to play down the suggestion of division in Cabinet on the issue.

“This is the most ambitious and comprehensive package of measures to tackle the climate and biodiversity crisis in the world,” the source said.

“We are absolutely united in our ambitions for the environment.”

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