Recently, many of us have been gripped by ‘Bondmania’. It is the media term floating around to describe the frenzy in cinemagoers, taking in Daniel Craig’s last outing as James Bond. It is hoped that No Time to Die will kickstart the cinema industry, after the dreary days of the pandemic. Likewise, the upcoming 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) is hoped by many to boost and bolster the efforts against climate change.
Taking place in Glasgow between October 31st and November 12th 2021, COP26’s President-Designate, Alok Sharma, could be described as an agent, like Bond, when it comes to the climate crisis. In the past few months, his Twitter feed has been awash with activity, business, and travel excursions that would make James Bond envious. He has exemplified the importance, but also the goals of COP26 on his many outings around the globe. So, what are the goals?
Sharma, also in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government, has had a long road to COP26. He has been seen delivering speeches in sunny Central Park, New York, to being amongst the world’s largest contiguous mangrove forest, the Sundarbans, in Bangladesh. He has had meetings with world leaders, finance, foreign and environment ministers from Brazil to China to Europe to India. The Caribbean, Africa, and Russia, have all welcomed him too. Setting up confidence between countries is imperative, as there will be key negotiations that need to occur for success in Glasgow.
Secretary-General of the UN, António Guterres has made comments that there is a real risk of failure at COP26 due to mistrust between developed and developing countries. A reason for this is climate finance and justice, which are discussed below. Collaboration is needed for the official goal of negotiating and finalising the ‘Paris Rulebook’. This will include creating a ‘robust system of carbon credits’, where carbon credits are tradeable permits/certificates that allow companies to emit a certain amount of carbon dioxide.
The ball is in China’s court to make COP26 a success
The negotiations will also aim to broker an agreement whereby the preferable 1.5oC warming target set out in the Paris Agreement can be achieved. Additionally, there is an aim to set a up a system to ensure countries stick to their net-zero targets. Although now two-thirds of the world economy are covered by net-zero targets, reaching them will still result in warming of over 2oC, far above the world’s aim, and catastrophic for communities across the planet. More is required.
Despite extending deadlines for updating and improving Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), in which countries present how much they aim to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by, it has not been enough. China, the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, submitted NDCs. And some including Brazil, Russia, and Vietnam submitted theirs with no new ambition.
It will be a challenge to mobilise new targets. It is also unclear whether President Xi Jinping of China will attend. This is problematic as Sharma has spoken of how the ball is in China’s court to make COP26 a success. Indeed, it rests upon building trust between nations, for all of them have a multitude of histories, wealth, and demographics.
Vince Pizzoni, as associate professor in Nottingham’s Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, who has worked in general management for Exxon, gave me a few of his thoughts on the climate crisis. On collaboration he said, “Collaboration is key both between countries and organisations. Dare I say I think the big energy companies need to put aside their desire to compete and work together for the common good.” Professor Pizzoni will be following COP26 very closely, also being a Fellow of the Energy Institute, and member of the Women’s Engineering Society’s Climate Emergency Group.
Finance & Justice
Both Alok Sharma and Boris Johnson will play key roles at the conference. And both know its importance, with Johnson in September saying it ‘must be a turning point for humanity’, and Sharma believing it to be the last chance to ‘keep climate change in check’. With the Industrial Revolution’s origins being in Britain, it is fitting for this valuable conference to be held in the country where the rapid rise in greenhouse gas emissions began.
The Industrial Revolution and use of fossil fuels has been widely attributed to economic growth, and has led to prosperous, developed nations like the UK and USA. Historical emissions count. CO2 can linger in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, and while the UK is now ranked 17th in overall emissions, it was 3rd in cumulative emissions from 1870 to 1970. On top of this, when per capita emissions are to be considered, the top emitters today such as India, and China would fall places in this list, and Western nations rise.
Therefore, it is no surprise that the developing world feels strongly about taking away the opportunity to use fossil fuels for economic growth, higher standards of living, and education. Add in the complication that these nations are most likely to suffer the devastating impacts of climate change, an injustice can be felt.
Banks and investors are told to commit to net-zero aligned investments
To somewhat remedy this, in 2009, it was suggested that a climate fund of at least $100 billion would be given to developing nations every year by 2020 through to 2025. While the latest estimate had the figure at $78.9 billion in 2018, new funding continues to be announced, with the UK and USA recently pledging to double their funding. COP26 aims to fulfill this sum.
The climate fund is an important point of trust between developed and developing nations. Other financial aims of COP26 include stimulating public and private investment for green infrastructure and innovation, respectively. Professor Pizzoni emphasised that “Climate change mitigation is going to come from a wide range of technologies being developed. The energy companies have a huge part to play in this.” Moreover, banks and investors are told to commit to net-zero aligned investments.
Mitigation & Community Protection
To go for the desirable 1.5oC warming target, several official aims have been planned for COP26. Firstly, to accelerate the phase-out of coal. As a fuel source, it is the most carbon-intensive, and has most attributable deaths, such as through air pollution. Back in June, the G7 nations of advanced economies, agreed to eliminate interest in coal as a fuel source. More recently, China has announced it will no longer build coal-fired power plants overseas. COP26’s President-Designate, Alok Sharma, also had the pleasure of triggering the demolition of two chimney stacks and the boiler house of Ferrybridge coal fired power station in Yorkshire in August 2021, something he described as ‘consigning coal power to history’.
I suspect we are in 2-3oC territory
Curtailing deforestation is another aim, which is important in protecting biodiversity but also carbon sinks. Most well-known is the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, that has the potential to store between 90-140 billion tons of carbon. Protecting biodiversity and bringing about climate-resilient infrastructure will also be topics of discussion at COP26. This is alongside a push for more use of renewables and Electric Vehicles (EVs).
Together, COP26 hopes those points will bring about the 1.5oC warming, although major figures, and scientists are doubtful that 1.5oC will be reached at COP26 or ever. In which case, the 2oC target is the best to aim for. Vince Pizzoni agreed “There is a huge focus on the 1.5oC target but many of us think this number is dead and buried. I suspect we are in 2-3oC territory. While I support net zero plans, I think there needs to be huge consideration given to risk mitigation and supporting those communities and infrastructure that will suffer.”
With the climate crisis, there is always difference of opinion and circumstance between communities to consider. Negotiation will fuel COP26, and successful negotiations will only come round when compromise is had. There is a lot to unpack for the aims at COP26, which inevitably means it is going to be a bustling conference, with new press releases and announcements around the clock.
The media, protesters, industry, and communities around the world will have their eyes set on Glasgow to see just how far the political world is prepared to go to save our world from the climate crisis. More heave and political will, will only bring positivity to society and consumers so that we can make the changes that will benefit generations to come.
In-article image courtesy of cop26uk via @instagram.com. No changes were made to this image.
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