COP26; The First Week


Article by Dr Julian Harrop

It must have been a shock to Glasgow, with the sheer numbers pouring into the city and being at the centre of the world’s media spotlight. Certainly, it looked like the regional airport was a parking lot for the biggest sale of private jets in history, but then who expected President Biden to come by Ryanair?

The opening speeches given by world leaders were emotive and lively outlining “what is” and what “should/could/will and must be,” Sir David Attenborough called for leaders to be motivated by hope and not fear. The Queen gave a personal heartfelt speech, with clear messages, she said

“I, for one, hope that this conference will be one of those rare occasions where everyone will have the chance to rise above the politics of the moment, and achieve true statesmanship.”

The absence of the Chinese and Russian leadership left a bitter taste, a point that President Biden was quick to mention. Despite the leader of China’s absence, it should be noted that China has already made climate related pledges this year, such as becoming net zero by 2060, and helping to ease that by raising its wind and solar generation capacity to 1,200 gigawatts, by 2030. Also, it has been noted that China often overachieve on its targets.

There was widespread disappointment over the stated Indian target of becoming net zero by 2070 , suggesting a focus on economic growth rather than carbon reduction for the world’s third highest CO2 emitter. This is 20 years after the UK’s target date according to The Times, it was hoped that India would at least follow suite with Chinas 2060 target date.  

Elizabeth Wathuti the Kenyan climate activist gave a clear speech citing her real-world experience of the effects of climate change in Kenya, outlining issues that she had seen including a failed rainy season, rivers running dry, crops failing, and animals and people dying. Emotive? probably, needed? definitely. A good if perhaps uncomfortable lesson to the assembled dignitaries that Climate change is causing genuine misery and disaster right now, a point reinforced by other indigenous speakers.


There have been positive and notable things that have happened since the conference opened. Including but not limited to the following:

Money

It has been widely noted that the richer nations have failed to deliver on the $100 billion to poorer countries by 2020. However, the former Bank of England governor Mark Carney plans to move $ trillions of Private capitol towards supporting clean energy initiatives. To that end 450 organisations controlling $130 trillion plan to shift their financing to activities that help the move towards zero carbon. How far down these funds will this be accessible is open to debate, according to the Federation of Small Businesses in the UK 99.9% of all business are SME’s, a fact reflected globally. Wherever this finance is directed or however it may be accessed, its priority is to finance zero-carbon initiatives. So, having a proven sustainable corporate ethos could be the key needed to access it with a likelihood that sustainability related requirements in PQQs, and ITTs may also become more evident. From a local perspective (Caithness and North Sutherland), becoming a Region of Sustainability Excellence, or an active member of it could therefore pay off in any number of ways

Trees

105 signatories representing countries with 85% of the world’s forests such as the Amazon rainforest, Canada’s northern boreal forest and the Congo all agreed to protect and restore them. This agreement additionally included protection of the rights of indigenous peoples in these areas and recognised their roles as Guardians of the forests. The pledge includes around £14 billion of funding (Public and Private) Although activists argue that similar promises and agreements have been made before and had little effect on the rate of deforestation, it should be noted that this agreement has attracted a lot more funding.

On a local fauna theme, according to the John O Groat Journal the Flow country was a topic in the multi-level pavilion in the Blue Zone at COP26 on Wednesday at an event called “The Flows and the Future”, so although not trees per se there is a focus on biodiversity, something well represented in the Flow country particularly with its UNESCO heritage ambitions 

Methane

More than 100 countries agreed to cut methane emission levels by 30% by 2030, with a goal to eliminate 0.2oc near term warming. Why is this important? according to the UN environment Programme (UNEP) methane causes up to 30% of all global warming and over a 20-year period can be 80 times more potent than CO2. Outside of the issue of methane being released from the Arctic tundra, it is “easier” for us to control its emissions at least in terms of how “we” directly generate them, such as from livestock and leaks from industrial pipelines. The 105 countries who signed up to this agreement produce 50% of the world’s methane emissions, the other largest emitters did not sign up to the pledge, such as China, Russia, and India, but there is still time!

Trump 180o policy shift

The US has re-joined the High Ambition Coalition, HAC, a group of countries pushing for progressive climate action to limit temperature rise to 1.5 oc. President Biden seemed to apologise for shortcomings in this area of the former Trump administration when they quit the COP 21 Paris accords. Biden said, “We will demonstrate to the world the United States is not only back at the table but hopefully leading by the power of our example,”

Technology

China, the US, the UK, and 40 other world leaders have signed a deal to make clean tech affordable everywhere by 2030.

Climate pledges also came from the commercial sector, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, pledging to invest $2 billion into restoring lands in developing countries, while India received mixed reactions for announcing a net-zero target as distant as 2070.

Creating markets

Forty nations led by the UK and including China, India, and the US, agreed to impose standards, create incentives, and set up rules, to create markets for new technologies. According to the BBC news, this could be transformative if it works. The partners might, for instance, agree a date by which a certain percentage of steel is made without using coal. This would give investors the confidence to know that markets for innovative technologies would be available, which could in turn dramatically lower the price of clean technologies globally.

Clean energy

In a deal with France, Germany, the UK, the US and the EU, South Africa will receive £6bn ($8.5 billion) to ditch its reliance on coal.

UK rules

Most big UK firms and financial institutions will from hereon in be asked to outline how they plan to hit climate change targets. These plans will be given to an expert panel to ensure they are not just green washing.


President Biden talking on Tuesday referred to the fact that fighting climate change can be beneficial to the economy, an important and “sustainable” point to make, and maybe reinforced by some of the comments above particularly with financial pledges. Biden argued that fighting climate change will create jobs, through green opportunities such as renewable power and electric vehicles, to name but two of many. Biden’s comments were reflected today (5th November) by 15 governments including the UK who declared support for Just Transition through green growth, decent work and prosperity as economies move towards net zero emissions, there are six steps:

1. Support for workers in the transition to new jobs.

2. Support and promote social dialogue and stakeholder engagement.

3. Develop economic strategies which include wider economic and industrial support beyond clean energy.

4. Promote local, inclusive, and decent work.

5. Support for human rights in global supply chains and the importance of building climate resilience.

6. Report on Just Transition efforts in Biennial Transparency Reports.

How this trickles down to street level is matter for debate, but as outlined in the six steps above, support in transition jobs and promoting local inclusive and decent work, seems to offer many opportunities at local level.

There were many commonalities in these speeches, such as tackling climate change is the right thing to do, it has to be started now, it will take a combined effort and has intergenerational implications, as the Queen noted in her closing comments:  

But we are doing this not for ourselves but for our children and our children’s children, and those who will follow in their footsteps.”  

Although it was reported that expectations were not high for COP26 at the start, according to the BBC however, some seasoned COP observers have been pleasantly surprised, such as Pete Betts the former EU lead for climate change who said:

“The trend towards a zero-carbon world is irreversible. The question is when we get there, and what the climate will be like by then.”

So, what next? The negotiators will continue their arguments and discussions, getting down to the intricate and probably messy task of establishing the rules, so that all nations can trust each other’s carbon reduction initiatives

As already mentioned how this will affect our lives individually and regionally remains to be seen. The COP26 is not the budget, so the effects are unlikely to start next week. In time we will probably be affected in various ways such as how we heat our homes, what we eat and how we travel. That said the comments mentioned above seems to offer potential regional opportunities which may need to be proactively grasped, horizon scanning may pay off, well that or some good advice.

What seems to be clearer than it was this time last week, is that adopting a sustainable approach is going to offer increasing opportunities to the commercial sector, particularly if it can be demonstrated that moving towards a net zero carbon world is a main strategic target. It also suggests that integrating a sustainable regime into our corporate DNA is not a luxury, not a tree hugging gesture or a box ticking exercise, to undertake it as a greenwashing exercise has its risks because, your supply chains, customers, and your employees are starting to recognise that well-worn trick, and as outlined above there will be official scrutiny against it.

For me at least and my colleagues in the ROSE project, with what we have seen in the COP26 so far, it seems clear to us that any business irrespective of size or sector that develops a strong sustainability ethic is among other things working towards the best way of future proofing itself.

ROSE SUSTAINABILITY aims to promote the shift of Caithness and North Sutherland’s economy to one where sustainability is prioritised.

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