COP26 from our own Correspondent – Week 1

Our own correspondent was at COP26 in Glasgow this week.  Here is his report on the first week.

COP26, or to give it its full name, the 26th annual Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, is currently taking place in Glasgow.   Our very own village correspondent has been there this week to bring you an exclusive report on week one.

This year COP is divided into distinct areas – the blue zone for the negotiations, managed by the UN; the green zone for selected companies to exhibit, managed by the UK, and a fringe event across all of Glasgow for everyone else, ranging from businesses to pressure groups to direct action protestors.  Over 50,000 people are attending the blue and green zones with many more being drawn to the fringe events.

The blue zone is where the main discussions take place and hosts the government negotiators and advisors; the non-governmental observers; the media; and around 100 mainly government sponsored pavilions providing presentation areas and meeting spaces.  Many of these pavilions organised a continuous programme of presentations, panel discussions and workshops, so in addition to the main negotiations and set piece speeches, at any moment there are perhaps 50 or more parallel sessions taking place on all aspects of climate change and what to do about it.  Many of these are live streamed and can be downloaded e.g. the UK Pavilion here and the US Center here.

While the main political declaration from COP won’t happen until the end of the second week, it has already been a tremendous success in advancing action to tackle climate change.  Probably the biggest change from previous COPs has been the position of business.  Previously most business leaders waiting on the side lines, not wanting to be the first to move.  Now it’s quite clear the starting gun has been fired and large businesses are competing to ensure they are not left behind on the pathway to sustainability.  This provides great grounds for optimism, because while governments can invest billions, business can invest trillions in tackling climate change.

Some of the notable announcements that you may have missed over the past week include:

  • Commitments to achieve net zero emissions from countries that have until now resisted setting climate targets including Australia and India.
  • 450 financial firms representing $130 trillion of investment committing to meet the goals set out in the Paris climate change agreement.
  • 100 countries pledging to end deforestation by 2030 including Indonesia, China, Canada, Russia and the US.
  • A pledge to cut emissions of methane by 30% by 2030 involving over half the world’s biggest emitters (methane is potentially 80 times as bad for global warming as carbon dioxide).
  • A commitment to end use of coal for generating electricity, signed by more than 40 countries including some of the most coal reliant.
  • The announcement of the Breakthrough Agenda to identify and track the developments needed to make clean and sustainable solutions the natural choice in power, road transport, steel and hydrogen.

So, despite some of the more downbeat press articles, the first week of COP 26 has achieved some noticeable successes.  These are best highlighted in the International Energy Agency’s assessment that, if all climate commitments made to date are delivered in practice, this would put us on a target towards 1.8 degrees temperature rise rather than the 2.7 degrees pathway suggested by the UN before COP26.  There’s a huge “if” in this projection and it’s still not 1.5 degrees, but it shows how far we have come.