5 Nov

LLEP Directors’ Blog: Overview of COP26, Glasgow – Week 1

Neil McGhee Chas Bishop

Overview of COP26 headlines - Week 1.

Over the next couple of weeks you will be hearing a lot about COP26, as discussions between world leader’s play out and pledges are made as to how they commit their respective countries to reducing carbon emissions, to try and keep our climate from over-heating.

Here at the LLEP we are working on a number of ‘carbon reducing’ initiatives that include fully funded support to help local businesses reduce their own carbon footprints.

As the Low Carbon Champions for the LLEP Board of Directors, we wanted to summarise some of the headlines at COP26, that will undoubtedly lead to some sort of action for local businesses in the future.

Neil: So what is COP26?

“COP” stands for “Conference of the Parties” and “26” is simply the number of times it has met. It is the United Nation’s Climate Summit, in which world leaders come together to discuss and co-ordinate joint-actions to try and stop global warming and attempt to reverse the terrible effects of climate change such as flash floods, forest fires and rising sea levels.

The official opening of COP26 witnessed a number of key speeches. The UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, stated:

“It’s one minute to midnight on the doomsday clock and we need to act now.”

This was followed by a stark warning by the UN General Secretary, António Guterres, who dismissed the suggestion that the climate situation was improving.

However Sir David Attenborough struck a more conciliatory tone, arguing that world leaders needed to work together, saying:

“In my lifetime, I have witnessed a terrible decline. In yours, you could and should witness a wonderful recovery.”

Chas: So what does this all mean?

Day One

On day one, the first major deal was struck, with more than 100 world leaders promising to end and reverse deforestation by 2030.

The pledge includes almost £14bn of public and private funds. Why is this important? Because felling trees contributes to climate change by depleting forests that absorb vast amounts of the warming gas CO2.

The countries that have signed up cover around 85% of the worlds forests including Canada, Brazil, Russia, China, Indonesia, the United States, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the UK.

The unofficial slogan for COP26 is:

“Keep 1.5 Alive”

referring to the 1.5 degrees centigrade target of the Paris Agreement. But with global emissions rising, that goal is becoming harder and harder to achieve.

Whilst limiting global warming to 1.5C could help us avoid some of the worst impacts of climate change, the world is on course for something closer to 2.7C warming, even if all national climate targets are met. The world is beginning to wake up to what this means in reality.

“A string of disasters – from a sizzling heatwave in Canada, to deadly floods in Germany and in central China – has made the clear cost and the danger posed by climate change.”

(Nat Keohane, President of the Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions a US think-tank)

Neil: Day Three

On day three more than 20 countries and financial institutions vowed to halt all financing for fossil fuel developments overseas, and diverted an estimated $8bn a year to green energy. The signatories include the US, UK and Denmark as well as some developing countries such as Costa Rica.

Hundreds of the world’s biggest banks and pension funds with assets worth over $130tn have committed to a key climate goal – the finance pledge, known as the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ). By 2050 all assets managed by these institutions will be aligned by net zero emissions. But, experts have expressed concern that whilst this is to be applauded, there is nothing to stop them also continuing to investing in the extraction and use of fossil fuels!

Rich countries have pledged $100bn to help poor countries reduce emissions but as yet, there is no agreement on how to spend the funds. Molwyn Jospeh, Minister of the Environment for Antigua and Barbuda, argues that:

“We are not asking for handouts, we are asking for compensation for damages, as a result of the profligacy of these developed countries. Those that emit this carbon, that is causing climate events, should pay.”

Of further concern is the existence of a little-known court system that could pose a real threat to the Paris Agreement, because Government’s taking action to phase out fossil fuels are facing a number of multi-million dollar lawsuits for lost profits.

Data shows a surge in cases under the Energy Charter Treaty or ECT. This is an obscure international agreement that allows energy corporations to sue governments over policies that could harm their profits.

A dozen union chiefs from across Europe have called on world leader’s to factor in nuclear power as they discuss how to accelerate the path to net zero emissions. However, the use of nuclear in the fight to tackle climate change is fiercely contested, with some countries such as Belgium, phasing out their existing nuclear power stations. Countries such as Germany, Austria and Luxembourg opposed a Finnish proposal for the EU “taxonomy” to include nuclear in its definition of sustainable activity.

The open letter has been signed by the UK’s GMB Trade Union. Manufacturing union’s support nuclear because it is a labour-intensive form of energy production compared with some other renewables such as off-shore wind, but environmentalists raised concern that by choosing nuclear merely presents further problems down the line.

Chas: Day 5

Day 5 at the Climate Summit brings an agenda-led by youth involvement on the main stage plus several thousand protesters marching through Glasgow to coincide with Youth and Public Empowerment Day at COP26.

Crowds are expected to be much bigger on 6th November for the Global Day of Action for Climate Justice, with protests expected to be co-ordinated in 200 or more cities around the world.

Expected to join them will be Greta Thunberg, whose message is:

“If you want action on climate change, start with yourself.”

What exactly does she mean by this?

In a recent YouGov Survey, 66% of Briton’s say they would be willing to only eat fruit and vegetables that are in season, but only 7% of those surveyed are already doing that. Of the people surveyed, only 36% said they wouldn’t be willing to give up their car and move to public transport.

At the bottom of the list is cutting out all meat and dairy, with just 17% of those surveyed saying they would, but over 70% refusing.

Why are these 3 areas important?

Because they are three of the largest carbon emitters. Another area, particularly unpopular was giving up flying for leisure with 23% saying they would be willing to do so, but 51% are not willing.

One key factor in people’s own willingness to make life-style changes could be that if they think others aren’t doing so, thereby rendering their own efforts meaningless. But, this is simply not the case – studies in the US, Germany and Sweden show that one person or family’s action’s become an “influencer” and start a ripple effect.

Behavioural change can be the springboard for new technologies. It is these changes in behaviour that sets the parameter’s for politics.

Globally re-cycling is the most frequently cited way of fighting climate-change, but it makes minimal difference to your carbon footprint. Do it, but focus your attention elsewhere. For example, consider your future ‘green’ investments and use of fossil fuels, insulate your homes, turn your heating down by a degree or two, cut down on your journey’s by car (even if you have an electric car as they have their own carbon footprint) and reduce your consumption of meat to only 1 or 2 days a week.

A recent analysis shows that global carbon emissions are shooting back to the record levels seen before the pandemic. Scientists are saying that the findings are a “reality check” for the world’s leaders when discussing progress made against their targets as set out in the Paris Agreement and when pledging new ones.

Look out for our COP26 Week 2 blog next week.