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Britain's COP26 climate talks 'can't fail': minister

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Paris (AFP)

The world can't afford for crunch climate talks this year to fail, Britain's energy minister said Wednesday, despite the government not having named a leader for the summit starting in November.

Speaking at an International Energy Agency (IEA) event in Paris, Kwasi Kwarteng said that the COP26 climate negotiations would be the "top international priority" for his government despite it occurring just weeks before the Brexit negotiation period is due to expire.

"We can't guarantee success," Kwarteng told country and industry representatives at the IEA.

"What I can commit to is that this is absolutely our number one priority as a government.

"I'm confident it will be a success because we really can't afford it to be a failure, not just on a global level. It's also on a national level given where we are with Brexit and other issues," Kwarteng added.

The COP26 talks in November are the final negotiating session before the landmark 2015 Paris climate deal goes into effect.

The accord saw nations pledge to limit global temperature rises to "well-below" two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) and to work towards a safer cap of 1.5C.

To do so greenhouse gas emissions need to fall sharply -- 7.6 percent annually by 2030, according to the latest United Nations estimate.

The IEA said Tuesday that emissions from energy, which account for the majority of manmade carbon pollution, had flatlined in 2019 after two successive annual increases.

"2019 is potentially an inflexion point but we have to work very hard to ensure it represents a peak number and not simply a staging post to even more emissions," said Kwarteng.

He was speaking several days after Britain's original choice for COP26 president, former energy minister Claire O'Neill, was removed from the role.

She responded with scathing criticism of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his cabinet's handling of preparations.

In a letter to Johnson leaked to the Financial Times, she warned: "We are miles off track.

"You promised to 'lead from the front' and asked me what was needed 'money, people, just tell us!'. Sadly, these promises and offers are not close to being met."

O'Neill said that a COP26 planning sub-committee had not met once in the months since she was appointed, and told the BBC she believed Johnson "really doesn't understand" climate change.

With just 1C of warming above pre-industrial levels so far, the world is already experiencing record heatwaves, wildfires and storm surges made worse by rising seas.

The COP26 in Glasgow is the last chance for countries to accelerate their plans for voluntary emissions cuts. Current pledges have Earth on course to warm more than 3C by 2100.

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