Image Credits: Kiara Worth
19th Sept 2021 | Author: Chris Taylor
Hosted by the UK Government, the COP 26 climate conference finally went ahead over one year later than it was originally planned due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
The reasoning behind the delay was that a bigger and more meaningful agreement could be reached in person than virtually. With the two-week event in Glasgow over half over, some real ambition has been shown from world leaders and their governments, NGOs and the private sector to tackle the climate crisis, but their efforts so far would still mean coming up short of the 1.5oC target set in Paris in 2015.
The 13-day conference saw positive sustainable outcomes for the climate, social justice and economic opportunities on each day of the conference, but only the positive actions taken afterword will determine how successful the event will be.
The first Monday was a chance for world leaders to say their piece. Each of them laid out their agendas, but there were some notable exceptions with the likes of China, the world’s largest coal consumer and CO2 emitter, and Russia, the world’s second biggest natural gas producer.
The biggest announcements from day came from Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India in which he said his country would get 50% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030 and aim for net zero by 2070. A full 20 years behind the aims of most other nations but is the biggest climate target ever set by India. Nigeria also announced its first carbon-neutral plan, meaning countries representing more than 70% of the world’s emissions have now signed up to long-term goals.
Tuesday saw a pledge from over 100 countries to end deforestation. A level of scepticism came with this announcement as it has been pledged before at the New York conference in 2014. A note of optimism followed though as this time it was backed up with over [US]$19 billion from public and private money and a further [US]$1 billion for indigenous communities to act as forest guardians. There were also steps towards the creation of sustainable supply chains and deforestation-free international trade that were not included in previous pledges. However, India has not signed up to this pledge, Indonesia has rolled back commitments, and Brazil’s policies toward the Amazon rainforest must change dramatically to be feasible.
On Wednesday, the pledge was made for methane emissions to be slashed. Almost 100 countries signed an agreement to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030, compared to 2020 levels.
The United States and EU are taking the lead on the initiative with Brazil signing up to this pledge. Three top-5 methane polluters including China, Russia and India have not signed up for this deal, but the signatories account for over 66% of the global economy.
The news was greeted warmly by Includability Ambassador, Richard Betts, Associate Partner in Climate Change and Sustainability Services at EY, but also said this was a relatively easy win for politicians in the climate battle. He said:
“Because methane is a potent greenhouse gas but short-lived in the atmosphere, cutting methane emissions is a low hanging fruit, 1 of the most effective things that can be done to reduce near-term global warming.
“If global methane emissions can be cut 30% by 2030, scientists believe it could help the world avoid 0.3C of warming by 2040.”
The week was not all big announcements, however, it also showed the lengths left to go for a more sustainable world that has social inclusion at the heart of it, something the UN preaches alongside climate action with its SDGs.
Israeli Minister and wheelchair user, Karine Elharrar was unable to attend the summit due to wheelchair accessibility issues. The story highlighted that disability still needs to be placed on the agenda alongside the other pressing issues as a prominent talent for the climate negotiations was lost due to inaction.
Diane Lightfoot, CEO of Business Disability Forum, and Includability Official Partner, commented on the issue:
“This is not just an injustice, it is a waste of talent, skills and experience which literally didn’t make it into the room, let alone the conversation.
“This is what happens when the right voices and right lived experiences are not in the room. By simply involving disabled people from the start, we design out road bumps (literally in this case) and create a better experience for everyone. Surely in 2021, inclusive and accessible design should be something that happens by default?
“We have a duty post-Covid to literally build back better – and as many businesses consider downsizing office space to move to a hybrid or remote working model there is perhaps a unique opportunity to make premises not just sustainable for the climate but accessible and inclusive too. Hybrid and remote working is also not an excuse for inaction or to be inaccessible because disabled people ‘can work from home/attend remotely’. Disabled people deserve the right to choose where and how they experience events and how and where they work, just like their non-disabled peers. Otherwise, what message do we send about who and what we value?”
Day 4 saw around 450 financial organisations, who between them control [US]$130 trillion, agreed to back "clean" technology, such as renewable energy, and direct finance away from fossil fuel-burning industries.
44 countries and 32 companies also agreed to phase out coal-fired power. Canada, South Korea, Ukraine, Indonesia, Vietnam, and large coal producer Poland said they would quit this dirtiest form of fossil fuel between 2030 and 2040.
Other nations pledged to halve financing of coal plants overseas, but the US, China, Australia and India will keep their current quotas.
The UK has dramatically reduced the use of coal for electricity production. On conference day 4, the UK generation mix was 40% from gas, 23% from wind, 14% from nuclear, 8% from solar, 6% from biomass, 1.3% from hydro and the remainder from imports. This generation mix is greening the grid in the UK and it has been happening now for over a decade.
Includability Official Partners, Planet Mark welcomed the news of coal reduction and called for remaining countries to join the pledge. In a statement, the carbon and social sustainability certifier said:
“Some 30% of all carbon emissions globally come from coal-fired electricity generation, which is why Planet Mark welcomes any international agreement to phase it out. What is disappointing is that many of the main emitters have not agreed to sign up.
“It was also announced today that the rebound in global carbon emissions is expected to return to the record level seen before the Covid-19 pandemic hit. These statistics serve as a reminder to that much more needs to be done to drastically cut carbon, and businesses – no matter what size – have a crucial role to play in this.
“Global targets are needed, and big emitters need to be held to these targets if we are to achieve the 1.5C pathway.”
The first Friday of the summit shifted the focus from purely climate to social issues that also affect sustainable living with a focus on youth and public empowerment.
Thousands of youth activists taking to the streets of Glasgow demanding climate action. The event, organised as part of the Fridays for Future movement, it demonstrated that power doesn’t just lie in the hands of government or large corporates but with individuals too, particularly the next generation.
Week 2 Day 1
Adaptation was the focus of the second Monday of the summit, with a new framework launched by the Race to Resiliency programme to help businesses and regions measure climate resiliency.
The programme has marked Adaptation and Loss Day by unveiling a metrics framework that gives cities, regions, organisations and investors the means to measure the progress for the first time. Their efforts in building resilience to climate change will help the 4 billion people most at risk by 2030.
In a statement, Planet Mark said about the new framework, “At Planet Mark, we are driving change to close the adaptation gap and respond to climate impacts. Our net zero services go beyond measurement of carbon footprint and will de-mystify the subject of net zero carbon emissions no matter what stage in your net zero journey you are on, from committing to a target to creating the action plan needed to get there.”
The theme for day nine of the conference centred around gender. The UN say that while climate change will affect all nations and all people, many impacts will not be gender neutral.
The rapidly changing climate is deepening existing gender inequalities, with women and girls being affected most. UN research found that, globally, women are most at risk to the impacts of climate change, comprising of 80% of those displaced by climate-related issues.
Day 10 of 13 saw a late-in-the-day breakthrough between China and the US as they agreed to boost climate cooperation over the next decade.
The two countries released a rare joint declaration promising action. It says both sides will "recall their firm commitment to work together" to achieve the 1.5oC temperature goal set out in the Paris Agreement. They called for stepped-up efforts to close the significant gap that remains to achieve that target.
Although this was just a promise with no other commitments or actions to cement it, this announcement was the first time this conference the two major world economies have made a joint announcement at this summit. It also gives hope that more substance behind this promise will emerge over the final two days.
Leading car manufacturers also pledged to rapidly accelerate the transition to low-carbon emission vehicles by 2035.
The final themed day focussed on transport and to push the agenda to decarbonise the sector by phasing out fossil-fuel vehicles and switch to zero emissions vehicles. There was a driving force from India as the second most populous country, and leading car manufacturers pledging to rapidly accelerate the transition to low-carbon emission vehicles by 2035.
Days 5 & 6
The final days of the conference were dominated with agreeing the final draft framework of a new agreement, with last minute talks extending the conference into the Saturday.
A new global agreement - the Glasgow Climate Pact - was reached at the summit with the aims to reduce the worst impacts of climate change.
However, leaders and campaigners say it does not go far enough. Last minute amendments from key coal producing nations changed key parts of the agreement meaning coal will be ‘phased down’ over a longer period of time rather than reaching a globally agreed timescale for coal to be ‘phased out’ from economies altogether.
The UN says the pact, combined with increased ambition and action from countries, means that 1.5oC remains the goal and scales up action on dealing with climate impacts, but the target is now on life support and will only be delivered with concerted and immediate global efforts.
Alok Sharma, COP26 President said: “We can now say with credibility that we have kept 1.5 degrees alive. But, its pulse is weak and it will only survive if we keep our promises and translate commitments into rapid action.
“From here, we must now move forward together and deliver on the expectations set out in the Glasgow Climate Pact and close the vast gap which remains. Because as Prime Minister Mia Mottley told us at the start of this conference, for Barbados and other small island states, ‘two degrees is a death sentence’.”
One of the successes with the conference came from pressure exerted from the most vulnerable countries to introduce a yearly ‘ratchet’ system intended to force continual escalation of climate action by requiring states to present enhanced emission reduction plans in time for COP 27, scheduled for Egypt in 2022.
Includability Official Partner, Prosperah, said they welcome that this agreement is the first to explicitly mention fossil fuels and there was agreement to speed up the adoption of and investment in affordable clean technology, but said the final agreement on coal was ‘watered down’.
In a statement, Prosperah said, “While this agreement is nowhere close to actually solving the climate crisis, today we are one (small) step closer to the final goal.”
Planet Mark say the greatest responsibility for protecting the climate now falls to the private sector with governments failing to reach a sufficiently meaningful agreement this year. They have pledged support for any business looking to set new net zero targets. In a statement on social media, Planet Mark said:
“The pressure now builds on organisations to take up where the politics failed to deliver and, as always, we believe brands, institutions and organisations will be leaders.
“We appeal to every business in every sector to join us in setting a net zero target. No matter what stage in your net zero journey you are on, from committing to a target to creating the action plan needed to get there, we’re here to support you.”