As climate ministers take centre stage, NZ’s James Shaw will help wrangle one of COP26’s key goals – agreeing a system to make countries’ emission promises under the Paris agreement transparent. Rod Oram reports.

The UN has assigned Climate Minister James Shaw a key negotiating role in this final week of the CO26 meeting in Glasgow. He will co-facilitate the Transparency workstream with Sir Molwyn Joseph, Minister of Health, Wellness and the Environment of Antigua and Barbuda, a Caribbean nation.

“Since the Paris Agreement does not have compliance and enforcement measures, transparency is a critical component for enabling accountability and trust,” Chatham House, a leading UK policy institute, wrote in a paper shortly before the start of the negotiations.

Progress on the workstream is considered vital to ensure comparability of nations’ climate pledges and integrity in measuring and reporting their implementation. It is also vital for the trustworthiness of carbon markets, both regulatory and voluntary.


New Zealand is among only a handful of countries planning heavy use of such overseas carbon markets to offset their promised emission cuts. However, if COP26 fails to deliver sufficient rigour to the global system, New Zealand could still use those bilateral and multilateral credits which are considered credible.

But with only four more days to the midnight Friday deadline for the COP26 negotiations, delegates have a punishing workload ahead to achieve a final statement of consequence, judging by the UN’s “Non-Paper: Presidency summary of possible elements identified by Parties for inclusion.”

Its three-pages consists entirely of bullet points under the main workstreams, such as:

Context: Need for increased ambition in light of science to address gaps across all pillars of the Paris Agreement in a balanced manner.

Mitigation: Urgency of action towards Paris temperature goal of well below 2 degrees, pursuing efforts to 1.5 degrees; emphasising importance of keeping 1.5 degrees in reach.

Adaptation Finance: Deep concern that the $100bn goal has not yet been met.

Implementation: Placeholder: elements of the Paris Rulebook. Increased support for enhanced transparency framework reporting requirements.

This, of course, just a skeletal list. Far more substance is under energetic debate in negotiating rooms around the COP campus. It’s too early to predict where the key issues will land.

The following guide to the most important goals COP26 has to achieve comes from Johan Rockström, a leading earth systems scientist and head of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. He is also making important contributions to New Zealand’s sustainability journey. For example, he led the team that produced the New Zealand Planetary Boundaries report for our Ministry for the Environment last year; and he was the 2017 Laureate of the Hillary Institute of International Leadership.

Johan Rockstrom at COP26. Photo: Rod Oram

I caught up with Rockström today in the Action Hub, which is housed in an impressive circular indoor stadium on the COP26 campus. He said the absolute priority is not just countries’ net zero by 2050 pledges, but crucially they have to demonstrate “credible pathways” by which they’ll get there.

“Number two is equally important, if not even more important. Namely COP26 must be the COP meeting where we agree to keep the carbon sinks in nature intact. If we don’t we will fail even if we were following the net zero pathway.”

That’s because further degradation of nature will turn it from “a sink to a source, and then we lose it anyway. So we have to really halt deforestation, invest in nature based solutions, and mobilise transitions to sustainable food and cities.”

The third priority is “filling up the Green Climate Fund. It’s at US$98 billion. Now it needs to be US$100bn of fresh new money, real money, every year to help developing countries scale up their transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.” While the sums are small they are an important signal to encourage even more private sector capital onto that work.

Above all, “50 percent of all land area on Earth is for agriculture and agriculture is the single largest emitter. So, we need to have massive amounts of effort, policy, finance, to help farmers around the world to become carbon stewards. This is possible, but it is requiring a lot of effort along the whole value chain of food, production processing, and consumption. And we don’t see that yet here,” Rockström says.

“I hope we can see more and more, hard policy discussions on the food system transition. Companies are really interested here. The big players like Unilever and Walmart and TetraPak are really engaged in a very profound way. They’re seeing the writing on the wall here that they are so dependent on supply from dairy farmers and biomass from forest industry, right into their packaging or food processing.

“And when they talk about scope 1, 2, 3 [the measurements that capture the carbon footprint of the full supply and full chain from farm to consumer] they immediately collide with greenhouse gas emissions, way beyond just coal oil and natural gas. It’s really about biomass. We’re seeing a trajectory on that here, but it has to go much faster.”

The centre of the Action Hub is dominated by a slowly revolving globe, although you can barely see Aotearoa because of the cloud cover.

NZ lost in the clouds on the action hub globe at COP26.  Photo: Rod Oram

As the globe revolves, a video display encircles it like a distant “earth ring.” Prominent among its messages are logos of all the major corporate sponsors of COP26.

For the record, the largest single “delegation” of officially registered attendees at COP26 is the 503 people with links to fossil fuel interests, Global Witness, an NGO reported today.

By comparison, Brazil is largest country delegation, with 479 members. The UK, as hosts, has the 10th largest delegation, with 230, and the US has 135 official delegates. New Zealand’s is likely the smallest from a developed country, numbering fewer than 10.

The COP26 theme for Tuesday is two-fold:

Gender: “Progressing gender equality and the full and meaningful participation of women and girls in climate action.”

Science and Innovation: “Demonstrating that science and innovation can deliver climate solutions to meet, and accelerate, increased ambition.”

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