The heavy-hitters make late moves as the global climate summit comes to the final item on the agenda: Close of Negotiations.  Rod Oram reports

The sudden and surprise rapprochement between the US and China, at least on climate, has added considerable political clout to the COP26 climate negotiations.

But in contrast to COP21 in 2015 where the two worked closely together to lead the nations of the world in reaching the Paris Agreement, they hold opposed positions here in Glasgow on a number of critical issues. This makes the last two days of negotiations intriguing and the outcomes unpredictable.

One of the biggest is whether countries should increase their UN climate pledges more frequently than once every five years under the Paris Agreement, The US says yes and so far the Chinese say no.

Many factors were likely at work in the Chinese decision to belatedly raise its profile at COP26 after President Xi Jinping decided not to attend. One is clearly the strong US presence here, which was led by President Biden during his two-day visit.

However, it’s John Kerry, his climate envoy, who is having by far the greater impact. He is deploying his multi-decade experience on climate issues and using his considerable political skills to reap the rewards of his extensive climate diplomacy around the world over the past two years.


Perhaps Rep Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, has also player a useful role in bringing the US and China together again on climate. She jetted into Glasgow a few days ago with a large contingent of House Democrats, including the chairs of five climate and energy related committees and some 20 other Representatives.

At her press conference, Pelosi proclaimed the US was back to lead the world on climate now a Democrat was in the White House. That glosses over the inability of Biden to get much of his climate agenda past Republicans and a couple of recalcitrant Democrats in the Senate. Still, each of the five House committee chairs dutifully repeated the refrain as they introduced themselves.

Perhaps this show of American exceptionalism contributed to China’s decision to assert greater climate leadership here. After all, it is the biggest economy and biggest emitter in the world. Teaming up with the American is one way to try to keep it in check, or at least share the kudos for greater progress here.

Meanwhile down on the farm, the Agri- Food Transition Summit was underway in the Innovation Zone at COP26 on Thursday. I took the opportunity to ask Rob Cameron, Global Head of Public Affairs at Nestlé, the world’s largest food producer, how well COP26’s work on the world’s food system was progressing.

He welcomed the Global Methane Pledge, signed in COP’s first week by more than 100 countries, to cut emissions by the very potent greenhouse gas by 30 percent by 2030.

He said Nestlé was strongly focused on methane reductions, which account for some 40 percent of its agricultural emissions. Those in turn account for two-thirds of its total emissions of some 90 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent a year.

Its roadmap to net zero by 2050, launched last year, has a 2030 target of a 50 percent cut across all the company’s emissions, which is in line with the science of limiting global heating to 1.5C by 2050.

Nestlé is Fonterra’s largest single customer. I’ll return to that in a later column, since the NZ co-op’s climate plans pale by comparison with Nestlé’s science-based targets and climate investment.

Cameron also welcomed COP26’s progress in other areas such as deforestation and Nature-based Solutions to the co-crises of climate breakdown and biodiversity loss.

But Nestlé is disappointed the COP programme did not include a specific day focused on the global food system, given its substantial contribution to the climate crisis and the ability of the sector to reform and become part of the solution.

First Milk, a Scottish farmer-owned co-op, is one example of the progress Nestlé is making with its milk suppliers on methane reduction, said Dr Emma Keller, the company’s Head of Sustainability for the UK and Ireland.

Adopting a range of new practices, some of which are regenerative agriculture ones, thee farmers have cut emissions from their operations by 25 percent in the past few years.

“All these interventions, when you stack them up, can deliver not just amazing greenhouse gas savings, but actually multifunctional benefits that increase the overall performance of the farm. And ultimately the reward that the farmers in their pocket, which is crucial,” she said.

Worldwide, Nestlé is investing SwFr 1.2 billion (NZ$2 bn) in regenerative agricultural practices of a selection of its supplying farmers over the next five years.

Emma Keller. Photo: Rod Oram

Seeking further perspective on the contribution global farming and food systems will make towards a 1.5C world they transform themselves, I interviewed Dr. Helena Wright, Policy Director at the FAIRR Initiative, earlier in the week here at COP26.

FAIRR is an investor network focused on Environment Social and Government drivers of transformation in farming and the food supply chain around the world. Its members manage more than US$45 trillion of funds.

COP26 has progressed a number of issues, Dr Wright said. For example, “around US$12 trillion of our investments have supported a statement calling on better clarity on agricultural emission reduction targets within the NDCs produced by countries.

“Our research looked across the G20 governments and what they were doing in terms of that. About half of them had specific targets for reducing their energy emissions, but on agriculture, zero had targets.”

AT COP26, FAIRR is also backing the global action agenda for agricultural innovation. But, she said, there are only a few and weak links to farmers contributing to helping ecosystems recover their biodiversity, and earning income from doing so.

Earlier this year, FAIRR produced a report on New Zealand’s dairy sector. Among its conclusions, it said the sector was ignoring the opportunity of offsetting some of its climate mitigation and adaptation risks by partially diversifying by farming plant-based sustainable proteins.

In our discussion, we touched on other issues such as the likely impact of the Global Methane Pledge on farming; and the Scottish Government’s 1.5C roadmap which includes a specific focus on more sustainable farming linked with one on healthier and more sustainable diets.

In contrast, shortly before COP26, Boris Johnson’s government had specifically ruled out a diet component or other behaviour change initiatives in its net zero strategy for the UK.

The COP26 theme for Thursday was built environments. Kāinga Ora, the Crown housing agency, is featured online in the ‘Build Better Now.’ This virtual pavilion showcases 17 initiatives from around the globe that are mitigating climate change. The agency describes Ngā Kāinga Anamata, a new housing development described in this recent Newsroom article.

As I’ve mentioned previously, the daily reports from the Earth Negotiations Bulletin are the best public source of information about the state of negotiations. ENB, a long-running programme of the Canadian-based International Institute for Sustainable Development, is authorised to cover all the negotiation sessions to help delegates keep abreast of the vast range of topics.

The last section of each day’s report, In the Corridors, gives a flavour of the day’s deliberation. Below, is the latest, published Wednesday evening. It offers hope for concluding an agreement on Article 6, which would cover carbon market regulations under the Paris Agreement.

In the Corridors

Some heavy hitters were back at COP. UN Secretary-General António Guterres held meetings with delegations throughout the day. Leaving a bilateral, one delegate pondered the reason for his arrival: “He seems determined to help us out here. He sees possibility, but also reasons for worry.”

Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrived to, in one journalist’s opinion, “save the COP.”

From the Presidency’s Stocktake, it seems to many delegates there are two threads that could pull the Glasgow package apart, or tie it all together: finance and loss and damage. Finance is, “at its heart,” a developing country opined, “a matter of lost trust.” One, rushing out for their “one minute respite,” said that she thought finance had not had enough time, but they still hadn’t heard about the possibility of more time tomorrow because “the Presidency seems to be really pushing us.”

Developing countries have called for loss and damage to be recognized in transparency and finance discussions, and for its governance to be settled. Each discussion is individually difficult. Together, they could represent a wholesale leap in the acknowledgement and resourcing of loss and damage. The cover decisions may be one place to weave the package together, and heads of delegation were still debating these late into the evening.

Two major players weighed in by the end of the day. In back-to-back press conferences, the Climate Envoys for China and the US unveiled a joint declaration on enhancing climate action. It includes cooperation on methane and a working group on enhancing climate action in the 2020s.

Both countries intend to communicate new NDCs in 2025, that will run until 2035. This may help ministers choose between the two options currently before them on common time frames. Both countries committed to sorting out Article 6 and transparency at COP 26. This announcement may be a late gift to the Presidency as it tries to help countries iron out the many issues on the table.

Dubious Honour for NZ

The Climate Action Network has been nominating Fossil of the Day awards throughout COP26.  It has just ‘honoured’ New Zealand.

“New Zealand finally won a well-deserved Fossil award and comes in second place

The draft text, quite rightly, calls on parties to revisit their NDCs and give their 2030 targets some real bite and backbone to haul them into line with Paris temperature goals by the end of next year. Given that we’re at the eleventh hour of negotiations, we assume this to be a reasonable request – clearly not when New Zealand’s Climate Minister, James Shaw, is involved.

We nearly fell off our chair when Mr Shaw (who also chairs the transparency negotiations and is co-leader of the NZ Green Party btw) quite literally said that just because a refreshing of the NDC has been asked of countries “it doesn’t mean we have to.” This comes from a country that gives off the ‘greener than thou’ vibe at the drop of a hobbits hat.

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised when it was brought to our attention that he’s also the guy who put out a revised NDC the night before COP. That one wasn’t worth the wait, unfortunately. Civil society commentators widely regarded it as a Grade A hatchet job, inconsistent with Paris temperature goals, wholly unambitious 2030 target and relying heavily on carbon markets.

And there’s more to make them truly deserve this Fossil of the Day award. Good old Aotearoa also stood in the way of setting limits on carbon offsetting in Article 6 and recently issued two new fossil fuel exploration permits. They were severely burned today, and it’s no surprise given the evidence above when they were awarded the humiliating title of “Associate Member” for the signature statement on climate ambition for BOGA—not the things up your nose—but the Beyond Oil And Gas Alliance.

There is precious little time left and we need to turn up the heat on countries not taking their domestic emissions reduction roles seriously. Lead by example Kiwis, do the right thing and stop the greenwash – and skip the spin cycle while you’re at it.”

COP26’s theme on Friday: Close of negotiations.

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

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