The world’s powerful, rich and famous are making climate promises at the UN climate summit but a big increase in nations’ emissions cuts is the overwhelmingly important outcome, writes Rod Oram
Declarations, pledges and alliances are flowing thick and fast at COP26 in Glasgow. They all show the great human divide on the climate crises. The likes of indigenous groups and developing countries are seeking far greater rights and much more help; while financiers, industrialists and professional sports among many others all promise to play their roles responsibly.
Among initiatives, climate vulnerable nations adopted the Dhaka-Glasgow Declaration outlining their demands for COP26 under five headings: Loss & Damage, Robust Carbon Markets, Accelerating Adaptation, New & Improved Climate Finance, and Shifting Trillions (of dollars).
Progress on those depend largely on a successful conclusion at COP26 of the Article 6 rulebook required to operationalise the 2015 Paris climate agreement. These have proved fraught in the years since. Many contentious issues are still on the table in Glasgow.
The UK, hosts of COP26, has declared the Glasgow Breakthrough, with the US and China among leading economies signing up to a wide-ranging goals to accelerate adoption of low carbon steel, hydrogen, power, agriculture, and road transport by 2030. It will create 20 million new jobs around the world, while delivering a more than US$16 trillion boost across both emerging and advanced economies, the hosts claimed. Signatories represent 70 percent of the global economy.
The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, co-chaired by Mark Carney a former governor of the Bank of England and now the UN’s Special Envoy on Climate Action and Finance, announced it has lined up US$130 trillion towards the net zero transition, with the sum collectively pledged by 450 business sector entities across 45 countries.
Carney said the “essential plumbing” was in place to deliver the money, since the alliance included members across the economy, including banks, insurers, pension funds, asset managers, export credit agencies, stock exchanges, credit rating agencies, index providers and audit firms.
For example, The IFRS Foundation, the international accounting standards body, announced the establishment of a new International Sustainability Standards Board to develop “globally consistent climate and broader sustainability disclosure standards for the financial markets.” Similarly, the Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures has published guidance on metrics, targets and transition plans.
Carney cautioned, though, that “to seize this opportunity, companies must deliver robust transition plans and governments set predictable and credible policies”.
While this represent a 25-fold increase in such funding promises over the two years, “it doesn’t mean that these US$130 trillion of assets are fossil fuel free or that brand new fossil fuel infrastructure is not being financed by these portfolios and loan books,” said Ben Caldecott, associate professor of Sustainable Finance at Oxford University. “We urgently need to focus on the quality and integrity of promises made by financial institutions, not simply their quantity.”
Crucially, GFANZ had pushed back against the most explicit road map for cutting greenhouse gas emissions put forward by the International Energy Agency that would have required them to halt financing of all new oil, gas and coal exploration projects this year, as a key part of its net zero by 2050 roadmap for the entire global energy system, the Financial Times reported last month.
Cartoon of the day, from the COP26 ‘cartoon wall’:
And as for professional sports bodies such as the Olympic Committee and the UK Premier League, they are promising all their activities will be net carbon zero by 2040 thanks to their Sports for Climate Action Framework.
But even if these and other such initiatives delivered on their promises, they would not solve the climate crisis. Science proves that the nations of the world have to cut emissions by half by 2030 if they are to stand any chance of reaching net zero by 2050, and thus keep the rise in global temperatures to a manageable 1.5C.
Thus, a big increase in nations’ climate pledges is the overwhelmingly important outcome for COP26. On Monday, India made a bold promise to be net zero by 2070, and to cut the carbon intensity of its economy. This will be a gargantuan task for the second most populous, but still developing nation, which will likely by the end of the decade overtake the US as the second largest economy in the world after China.
Yet, despite India’s lead, the new pledges offered so far in Glasgow, even if countries delivered on them, would still mean a rise in temperature of at least 2.5C. The extreme urgency of far bigger commitments was expressed in this video interview of Johan Rockström, a leading earth systems scientist and head of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.
Given that land use change, agriculture and flood production are in aggregate the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, COP26 has an extensive programme across those sectors.
From a New Zealand perspective, one of the most crucial presentations will be Thursday’s by Donald Moore, executive director of the Global Dairy Platform. He will lay out GDP’s Pathways to Dairy Net Zero. Andrew Ferrier initiated GDP as an alliance of major international dairy companies when he was CEO of Fonterra. But Fonterra, which has only managed to cut methane emissions by half a per cent a year in recent years, is represented at COP26 by only an Amsterdam-based trade strategy and stakeholder engagement staffer.
Reducing methane, a very potent greenhouse gas, is now a top priority in the global climate fight, underscored by the new US/EU alliance aiming to cut methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030. More than 105 countries, representing some 70 percent of global GDP have signed up so far.
Federated Farmers welcomed the launch of the alliance but said New Zealand was already doing its fair share to solve the climate crisis by aiming to cut methane emissions by 10 percent by 2030.
It’s view, held by many others in the primary sector, is heavily influenced by an alternative way to measure the climate impact of methane called Global Warming Potential*. But this is gaining little if any traction in the global climate community. Most importantly of all, the UN climate framework is sticking with GWP100, as Sarah Smith of the Clean Air Task Force, explains in the audio interview below: