The minister in charge of a major United Nations climate change conference this year has been criticised for travelling tens of thousands of miles while urging people to reduce their carbon footprint.
Alok Sharma, the former Business Secretary, has been criticised for failing to lead by example since taking on a full-time role in January overseeing the climate summit.
One MP dubbed him “air miles Alok” and questioned why he could not have organised more virtual meetings over the internet.
Mr Sharma has repeatedly urged Britons to cut their carbon footprints and in a speech on May 14 said: “If we do not act now, we will witness a global catastrophe the likes of which the world has never seen.”
In an interview on Earth Day last month, he told a tabloid newspaper: “Even small changes in the way we go about our day-to-day lives can make a difference in cutting our carbon emissions.”
However, analysis by The Telegraph found that Mr Sharma, the president of COP26, took 25 flights in three months, travelling up to 73,853 miles between Jan 31 and May 12.
The trips saw him fly to 19 countries, including a 17-hour flight to Costa Rica, an 11-hour flight to Japan, and two return trips to Africa within a fortnight.
Mr Sharma visited Qatar and the United Arab Emirates after both countries were added to the Covid travel red list, in addition to flying to Japan three days before its nationwide lockdown.
Flights equivalent to 2m phones being charged
The journeys – which are the equivalent of flying twice around the world – were the equivalent of producing 17 tonnes of carbon if he flew economy, or 49 tonnes if he flew business class.
A former minister said it was likely that Mr Sharma would have had as many as two officials with him, potentially doubling or trebling his carbon footprint: “Normally ministers would travel with a team of at least two civil servants.”
The impact on the UK’s carbon footprint from Mr Sharma’s journeys alone was the equivalent of 2 million smartphones being charged.
According to a study by the Forestry Commission, Mr Sharma would also need to plant roughly 8,446 trees to offset his carbon emissions if he flew in economy class, and 24, 347 trees if he flew in business class.
Daren Haworth, chief executive of climate consultancy C Level, said that travelling more than 100,000km was “a lot of flying for 2021 and the year of the zoom”.
He added: “Let’s hope it’s all essential for the climate negotiations and fully carbon balanced.”
‘Why didn’t he hold meetings online?’
Tory MPs were critical of Mr Sharma’s trips. One MP said: “While we have all been banned from leaving the country, ‘air miles Alok’ has been jetting around the world to hand out lectures on why people shouldn’t fly.
“This isn’t so much about preparing for COP 26, it is a bit more like a gap year. Why didn’t he go online? They held the G7 online.”
The UK is due to host the 26th UN Climate Summit in Glasgow in November. One Whitehall source defended Mr Sharma, saying he had taken the train to Glasgow.
The source said that Mr Sharma had to hold face-to-face meetings as part of the negotiations ahead of the COP meeting, adding that he had held more than 80 virtual meetings with over 60 countries.
In one case, after Mr Sharma visited Korea, the Government made “tangible announcements” on coal and other areas at a summit shortly afterwards.
The source said: “There are some meetings which just have to be done in person if you want to make a success of it.”
Friends also pointed to the fact that the Government’s Integrated Review found that climate change and preserving biodiversity was the UK’s number one international priority in the decade to come.
The source added that Mr Sharma was only allowed to travel with a “very limited” number of people on overseas trips, but declined to say how many had accompanied him.
A government spokesman said: “Helping the world tackle the climate emergency is an international priority for the Government.
“Virtual meetings play an important role, however face-to-face meetings are key to success in the negotiations the UK is leading as hosts of COP26 and are crucial to understanding and seeing first-hand the opportunities and challenges other countries are facing in the fight against climate change.”