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Code red on climate
Sensemaker audio

Code red on climate

Code red on climate

Last week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a code red report on climate change. But with Cop26 just around the corner, will leaders act fast enough to avoid the worst effects?


Claudia, narrating:

Hi, I’m Claudia – and this is Sensemaker.

One story every day to make sense of the world.

Today, the world’s code red report on climate change.


“It’s like hosting a disco… a bop…”

Alok Sharma, TED

You might be surprised to learn that the person talking about hosting a disco is Conservative MP Alok Sharma.

“… and look, I apologise that these terms show my age…”

Alok Sharma, TED

But Alok Sharma’s “disco” is going to be pretty important…

“You can get a hall, and you can hire a DJ but to make it work, your friends have to turn up and dance.”

Alok Sharma, TED

By friends, he’s referring to 30,000 delegates from around the world. And by “turn up and dance”, Alok Sharma wants those delegates to sign up to ambitious net zero targets. 

That’s because what Alok Sharma is actually talking about is not a disco at all. It’s Cop26 – a United Nations climate change conference.

“But forget the technical terms… what COP26 really stands for is our last chance to avoid the worst effects of climate change.”

Alok Sharma, TED

Cop26 is a chance for politicians to sign up to ambitious goals to protect the world from pollution, and to agree on the rules on how to police emissions. 

It’s happening in November, in Glasgow and Alok Sharma is the man in charge. 

And it’s going to be crucial. Possibly the most important disco ever held, if you use his term for it. 

This summer we’ve seen deadly wildfires, droughts, and flash flooding and last week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, published a devastating report on the latest understanding of our climate.

“It is unequivocal that human activities are responsible for climate change, that’s the finding of a new study by the UN’s Intergovernmental panel on climate change…”

BBC News

The IPCC’s report is alarming but if we’re honest with ourselves, we shouldn’t really be shocked by it.

So the question is, will the IPCC report wake leaders at Cop26 up for good? And is Alok Sharma the right man to run it all?


Now you might remember Alok Sharma as one of the cabinet ministers who led Covid-19 briefings in Number 10.

But in January, it was announced that he had been appointed president of Cop26. And you could say it was a surprising choice.

Alok Sharma has a poor record on Commons votes affecting the environment. He’s both opposed and publicly favoured the Heathrow expansion, and as for his choice of car… 

“[Kirsty Wark]: Just very quickly  and briefly… what do you drive? [Alok Sharma]: I actually have a diesel car along with millions of others… and I can ensure you that my next car will be an electric vehicle.

Alok Sharma speaking on Newsnight

In preparation for Cop26, Alok Sharma has travelled to more than 30 countries in the last seven months, mostly by plane. Last week he was over in Brazil, where he tweeted that he was having “constructive meetings”. He got quite a bit of flack for his flying record. 

But putting Alok Sharma aside, it’s the latest IPCC report that’s of real importance here.

“A new study says global temperatures are set to rise beyond the target limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius unless there are rapid and immediate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions…”

DW News

More extreme weather events, rising sea levels, higher global surface temperatures… and human influence is to blame.

“Now I have to say, I think if ever there was going to be a wake up call for the world when it comes to climate, then it is this report and it does show all too clearly…”

Alok Sharma speaking about the IPCC report

The report is a final reality check for policymakers.

“There is one other sort of key message to take away from this which is that the future is not yet written and the very worst of climate change is still avoidable…”

Alok Sharma speaking about the IPCC report

That’s Alok Sharma speaking again. He sounds hopeful. So should he be?


The IPCC report is one of three enormous volumes. This one was all about physical science, in February they’ll be one on the impact climate change will have on people and ecosystems, and the third is focused on solutions.

“What we need to look out for next year is the third working group which looks at mitigation, in other words where are those emissions coming from, what are the different pathways to cutting those emissions…”

Tamsin Edwards, author of the IPCC report

As stark as the findings are there is some hope that the world can still avoid the worst effects of climate change if we act now. And the good thing about the IPCC report is that it’s been approved by governments. It was put together as a very deliberate summary for policymakers.

Since the first report was published, 195 governments have been going through the summary, word for word, approving what it says.  

So, the report is politically accepted. 

And because of that, it stands Alok Sharma in good stead for this November. Cop26 is all about delivering on the goal to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and this report has only strengthened the case to do so.  

Today’s story was written and produced by Imy Harper.