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Readout

Countdown to Net Zero: what’s the plan for the next 12 months?

Wednesday 26 May 2021

At last week’s ThinkIn, we assessed what we should be doing at Tortoise over the next 12 months if we want to advance the net zero agenda


This was the first Tortoise climate ThinkIn on the glide slope to COP26 that we’ve marked out for ourselves and our Accelerating Net Zero Coalition. The idea is to unearth stories and write a net zero to-do list for business, government and consumers in time for the conference.

We asked a question – what’s the plan for the next 12 months? – and we got an answer. There isn’t one. There is no new treaty to be signed at COP. There are no formal landmarks to be reached before or after it. There are broad goals proposed by the hosts that may or may not be shared by the 200+ guests, but success or failure will be largely a matter of perception, mood and messaging. 

The organisers will want countries that have not yet published carbon targets, known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs), to do so, and for these to be aligned with keeping warming to 2 degrees or less. They will want agreement to implement specific parts of the Paris Agreement signed five years ago – but neither of these will be as important as a “global crescendo” of support for carbon cutting generally. 

All the more reason for coverage of the process and the issues behind it to focus on specifics.

We heard about three goals for COP, three reality checks for anyone interested in it, and three separate but related stories that could be worth pursuing.

Goals

Claire O’Neill of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, who as a minister brought COP to Glasgow, said the UK government wants agreement on

  • phasing out coal, which accounts for 30 per cent of global energy supply and could expand its share of the total because of growth in Asia, even though it’s by far the dirtiest and most carbon-intensive fossil fuel;
  • companies’ obligations to work with each other and their suppliers to go beyond net zero and commit to the negative emissions needed to start recovering from climate change rather than just slowing it down;
  • adding nature to carbon as a focus of the COP process, because only a holistic approach to nature conservation and restoration makes the most of the biosphere as a carbon sink and as a (human and non-human) habitat.

Reality checks

  • The ship called 1.5 degrees has sailed. Activists still insist on 1.5 degrees as a target and experts note it entails much less damage to the planet than 2 or more, but scientists and policymakers say 2 is now the best we can hope for. Courtney Holm of Capgemini said the question is “how to avoid 3”. 
  • “Offsets are not enough” (Holm again). They’re not enough in practical terms to achieve net zero or individual companies’ net zero targets. Nor will they wash with consumers or investors as a basis for net zero strategies. They have a place – it just can’t be front and centre.
  • There won’t be a global carbon price. There’s no mechanism for one, and there won’t be without a new world government – says O’Neill. Governments will need to rely on traditional levers like regulation and taxes instead. 

Stories

  • UK developers’ pushback on sustainability standards. Judith from East Yorkshire reported it, O’Neill confirmed it. How can housebuilders get away with diluting emissions / efficiency standards in 2021?
  • Biomimicry. Owls as inspiration for the latest wind turbine blade technology (h/t Carol Johnston). Where else does nature show how climate-related problems have already been solved?
  • Chancery Lane Project. A non-profit project funded by philanthropic organisations, which gives them a professional neutrality to get law firms and industry on board. Their pro-bono work provides SMEs with legal text to include in suppliers’ contracts to keep them net zero compliant. Can we show how this works in practice?

Plenty to chew on. 

You can catch up on the ThinkIn itself here:

Please stay with us on the glide slope: our next net zero ThinkIn is on Monday 14 June. We’d love to see you there.

This ThinkIn is part of Tortoise’s Accelerating Net Zero coalition. The initiative brings together our members and a network of organisations across a programme of ThinkIns and journalism devoted to accelerating progress towards Net Zero.

Visit the homepage to find out more about the coalition and join us.