UK government replaces O’Neill as president of U.N. climate summit

LONDON (Reuters) – British politician Claire O’Neill will no longer serve as president of a major U.N. climate summit taking place in Glasgow in November and her replacement will be confirmed shortly, the UK government said on Friday.

“Preparations will continue at pace for the summit, and a replacement will be confirmed shortly,” said a statement issued by the cabinet office. “Going forward, this will be a ministerial role.”

O’Neill said on Twitter that she was “very sad” that the role she had been offered last year by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to lead the team overseeing the summit, which is known as COP26, had been rescinded.

“A shame we haven’t had one Climate cabinet meeting since we formed. Wishing the cop team every blessing in the climate recovery emergency,” O’Neill said.

The two-week climate summit is seen as a moment of truth for the 2015 Paris Agreement to combat climate change, with the British hosts aiming to persuade big polluting countries to shore up the deal by pledging more ambitious cuts in emissions.

The government’s plan to appoint a cabinet minister to replace O’Neill signalled that it was throwing its full political weight behind the summit, said Jennifer Tollmann of climate and energy think-tank E3G.

“However, international partners will want to be confident that whoever steps into the post is there to stay – and that climate will be a top priority across UK foreign policy post-Brexit,” Tollman said.

Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, a London-based non-profit think-tank, said that the government still had to show it could get on track to meet its own target to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

“It’s a change of personnel, but the key tasks before the UK government remain the same – get the international diplomacy right, and make sure the UK is demonstrably on track to its own net zero target well before the summit opens so it’s ‘walking the walk’ on its climate leadership claims,” Black said.

Reporting by Matthew Green, editing by Andy Bruce

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