Summary | Address by COP26 President Alok Sharma at World Leaders Forum

This event was part of the World Leaders Forum, a year-round event series at Columbia University that has hosted over 300 heads of state and world leaders from over 85 countries since it was first established in 2003 by President Lee C. Bollinger.

September 22, 2022

The Center on Global Economic Governance cosponsored four events in the 2022 World Leaders Forum series in September 2022. If you missed any events, click here to watch the videos.

How can young people hold leaders accountable for climate change? President of the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26), The Right Honourable Alok Sharma, MP, shared his perspective on "Entering Overtime: The Race to Deliver the Glasgow Climate Pact" on September 22, 2022, as part of Columbia University's annual World Leadership Forum series. Mr. Sharma engaged with students in the final weeks of his COP 26 presidency in an interactive session moderated by Alexander N. Halliday, Founding Dean of the Columbia Climate School, which co-sponsored the event with the Columbia SIPA Center on Global Economic Governance.

President Lee C. Bollinger introduced the speaker and the intent of the World Leaders Forum, inviting distinguished speakers to directly answer students' questions on pressing world issues. Much in that spirit, Mr. Sharma recognized the youth's eagerness and frustration, recounted the hard-won consensus at COP26, and urged students to hold governments and businesses accountable in future COPs relentlessly.

Empowering youth action

Mr. Sharma acknowledged the youth's mixed sentiments about the political process and encouraged them to keep rallying, saying "I do understand the anger of young people. It is your future most at risk." Subsequent questions demonstrated the in-depth engagement of the audience, which included activists, researchers, and avid observers of the negotiations. When a student asked where the youth should focus their activism, Mr. Sharma encouraged them to continue their protests and strengthen the case for climate advocacy with interlinked issues, such as food security, migration, and war.

Building trust at COP26

Mr. Sharma shared his lessons of building trust in forging the historic Glasgow Climate Pact. The consensus was not guaranteed, but a hard-won feat made possible by difficult compromises. For this reason, Mr. Sharma emphasized that the Glasgow language must be the baseline, and any deviation from it would be a betrayal. In response to a student's question about disinformation, Mr. Sharma pointed to the latest IPCC report as the consensus view shared by 195 governments. Students were keen on taking these lessons for future leadership in the public and private sectors and proposing angles for thinking through open items. 

Looking ahead to COP27

When Professor Halliday and students asked about the next steps, delivering climate finance to climate-vulnerable countries in the Global South tops the list for the departing COP President. Echoing the critical priorities identified by students, Mr. Sharma said that COP27 would focus on designing the global carbon market in Article Six, loss and damage for developing nations, among other topics for discussion. In a hopeful remark, Mr. Sharma encouraged young leaders to rekindle the Glasgow spirit, tapping into the collective self-interests shared by countries and corporations he witnessed firsthand. He suggested students join local youth groups to get involved in future COP conferences.

The COP26 President's candor towards challenging questions from students demonstrated his commitment to an open and neutral presidency. As students aspire to grow into positions of authority and responsibility, the power of connecting with the incumbent shines through in this first in-person World Leaders Forum since the pandemic.

- Jiaxun (Leila) Li, MPA 2023, Columbia SIPA