A first draft of the COP26 deal reveals remaining conflicts between nations – and sessions on global air travel show the scale of the challenge to move to cleaner fuels. Rod Oram reports.

Climate negotiators at COP26 in Glasgow have a massive and treacherous mountain to scale by their Friday deadline if they hope to offer the people of the world a plausible pathway to limiting global heating to 1.5C.

The first draft of the final deal published early Wednesday morning (UK time) showed may of the chasms between developed and developing countries, rich and poor, fossil fuels and clean technology and many other opposed interests. The 5.51am timestamp suggested delegates had negotiated through the night.

Most crucially of all, the draft reveals the conflict between countries over how quickly they should reach certain emissions targets.

The UK, US and EU are among those demanding countries come up with new targets by the end of 2022, a marked acceleration from the 2025 deadline in the Paris Agreement. But China, Russia and other big emitters are holding to the original five-year timeframes in the 2015 Paris pact.


That said, the text is an improvement on the Paris Agreement on mitigation and the 1.5C target. Fossil fuels are named as a problem, and there is some language on the phasing out of coal-fired electricity. The push for enhanced cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, if agreed, would be a big win. But the draft is sketchier on finance, adaptation, and loss and damage, which are all critical issues in the negotiations. Also, there are still some serious divisions over agreeing rules on carbon markets .

A slightly positive sign is some references to Nature-based Solutions for tackling the co-crises of climate breakdown and ecosystem degradation. But the nature-related alliances announced earlier in the negotiations on, for example, halting deforestation, remain weak and broad.

Meanwhile around the COP26 campus the theme-of the-day was zero-emissions transport. Two sessions on sustainable aviation were particularly relevant to New Zealand, given our remote location on the planet and the sizeable income we earn from foreign tourists, assuming they slowly return as our border reopens.

Strong, clear strategic imperatives came through in two sessions involving airline and fuel industry leaders:

– Electric planes will soon be here for short haul flights; and thereafter, hydrogen-powered ones for medium length flights.

– But long haul flights, which generate 70 percent of the sector’s emissions, will depend for some decades yet on existing aircraft and engine technology, albeit using Sustainable Aviation Fuel, a synthetic product made from captured carbon which mimics kerosene made from fossil.

The former uses as a feedstock carbon in the air, plants, waste streams, and gases from the likes of steel and cement making, thus reducing the stock of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

The latter uses fossil sources, thus increasing the stock. They also produce aromatics, particulates and long-lasting contrails which add to global warming. In contrast, SAFs don’t produce the first two, and their contrails dissipate faster.

The global aviation sector is setting itself some challenging targets. For example, the Clean Skies for Tomorrow Coaliton hosted by the World Economic Forum has the goal of using SAFs to meet 10 percent of jet fuel demand by 2030. That’s 60 million litres of fuel, a 400-fold increase from current SAF output. Providing it will take 250 SAF production plants around the world at a cost of US$250 billion. The plants would create 300,000 jobs.

The UK has a similar focus through its Jet Zero Council, a partnership between industry and government. Backed by significant public funding, it’s making plans for 14 SAF production plants in the UK by 2030 at an estimated cost of US$10bn.

Even so, SAF will remain blended with kerosene on most flights for some decades before sufficient is made globally.

Other insights from the two SAF sessions on Wednesday included:

– Rolls-Royce plans to have tested and recertified all its existing engines for SAF by 2024.

– United Airlines and Cathay Pacific both endorsed the 10 percent by 2030 goal, and said they’d move even faster thereafter.

-Aircraft used by Deutsche Post DHL, the world’s largest logistics company, generate some 40m tonnes of emissions a year. Entirely eliminating those emissions by SAF, if it were available, would cost some 10 percent of revenues, based on near-term cost of SAFs. “That’s an order of magnitude which is manageable,” said Melanie Kreis, the company’s CFO.

“Prices will be manageable on a per ticket basis,” added Patrick Healy, chairman of Cathay Pacific.

Representing SAF producers in the WEF session and the follow-on one from the UK Jet Zero Council was Jennifer Holmgren, chief executive of LanzaTech and chair of LanzaJet, its SAF production joint venture, which is building a UK plant.

Sustainable Aviation Fuel panellists (left to right): Jennifer Holmgren CEO of Lanzatech, Christoph Beuttler head of climate policy at Climeworks, Warren East CEO of Rolls-Royce and Scott Kirby CEO of United Airlines. And joining online (left to right) Melanie Kreis, CFO of DB DHL, Chris Raymond, Chief Sustainability Officer of Boeing and Patrick Healy, chairman of Cathy Pacific

LanzaTech was founded in New Zealand by Sean Simpson and Richard Forster in the old IRL Crown research building in Parnell, Auckland. A year later, Peter Beck started Rocket Lab just down the corridor.

LanzaTech devised a way to capture carbon monoxide from the smoke stacks of the Glenbrook steel mill and use a radically different biological process to create the base carbon compounds for a wide range of products from fuels to solvents and fibres.

Stephen Tindall was LanzaTech’s first investor and remains a shareholder. In 2014, the company moved to Chicago to fast forward its development. I last wrote about LanzaTech in this 2020 Newsroom column.

LanzaTech has partnered with Air New Zealand and Z Energy on a feasibility study of an SAF production plant at the Marsden Point refinery using wood waste from Northland forest harvests. The report is available here but it appears to be getting no traction with our Government.

Yet, speakers in the SAF events on Wednesday at COP26 were unanimous in their judgment that SAF plants will need to be widely distributed around the world to access feedstocks and to ensure supply chain resilience.

Here are the views of Lanza Tech’s Holmgren on the importance of an SAF plant in New Zealand:

Meanwhile, here is my audio recording of the session. As usual, please excuse my less-than-ideal recording conditions at COP26.

A video replay of the WEF session on SAF will be available in due course on the Clean Skies for Tomorrow Coalition website.

Elsewhere at COP26 on Wednesday, Climate Change Minister James Shaw was speaking at a session on the climate risk reporting New Zealand is now requiring of our largest companies. He was joined by David Benattar, Chief Sustainability Officer of the Warehouse Group. The retailer was an early adopter among NZ companies of the Integrated Reporting and Global Reporting Initiative frameworks, which have helped it prepare for the new requirements under the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures regulations. 

The session was hosted by Mardi McBrien, managing director of the Climate Disclosure Standards Board, an international consortium of business and environmental NGOs working on integrated standards and reporting for climate. The CDSB has posted the video of the session on Linkedin.

COP26’s theme on Thursday: Cities, Regions and Built Environment. Advancing action in the places we live, from communities, through to cities and regions.

And here’s another cartoon from the collection in the main concourse of the COP26 campus:

Leave a comment