Downing Street has defended its climate tsar’s controversial decision to travel to 30 nations - including six red list countries - in his role as COP26 climate president.
Alok Sharma has sparked criticism after it was revealed he has travelled to 30 nations in the space of seven months in the lead up to the crunch climate change summit, all the while avoiding quarantine on his return.
Among the list of Sharma’s destinations were red-listed Brazil, Bangladesh, Turkey, Qatar and the UAE.
But Downing Street defended the climate Tsar, saying the travel was essential as part of his climate negotiations with countries ahead of the summit, which takes place this November in Glasgow.
“As COP president Alok Sharma is leading climate negotiations with countries including major emitters to cut emissions and secure ambitious action, ahead of the COP26 summit,” the prime minister’s official spokesman said.
“The majority of this work is done remotely, but some travel to key countries for face-to-face talks is essential.
“He has secured ambitious action as a result of the discussions he’s had - for example, immediately following his visit to Japan and South Korea.”
The spokesman also defended Sharma’s decision to visit a primary school days after returning from Bangladesh, as well as his decision to dodge quarantine under exemptions given to servants of the crown.
On the school visit, the spokesman said Sharma followed the requirements of the countries he had visited and on his return to the UK, “makes sure that Covid-secure measures are followed”.
He added: “There are exemptions set out on gov.uk and have been for some time that applies to workers in a number of areas such as airline employees, medical professionals and staff maintaining critical infrastructure.
“As is the case with Alok Sharma, where there is a strong case, for example travelling to a country to secure a commitment to secure net zero, there is obviously a case for that travel to take place.
“It’s important to have some of these meetings face-to-face, and as I say, a large number have secured tangible results.”
Travel rules currently state that anyone travelling from a red-list country - besides those who are exempt - must quarantine in a government-sanctioned hotel for 10 days, with costs often exceeding the £1,000 mark.
Labour’s shadow justice secretary David Lammy said the reports of Sharma’s travels sent out the message that it’s “one rule for them and another rule for us” while Wales’ first minister Mark Drakeford also told Sky News that it “undermines the effort” that other people have to make.
“We’ve all got used to having meetings with people in different parts of the world without needing to travel around the world to do it,” he said.
“And when we’re trying to persuade people to make the changes they need to make, we need to make, in our daily lives, transport, in our own homes, in the way that we think about the contribution we can make, we need the people at the very top to be demonstrating that they are doing that too, not thinking that that is for other people to carry that burden.”