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Core Cop

Core Cop

Cop survives as a way to progress the fight against climate change but only because this year’s host spent a lot of energy on key deals outside the core agenda.

They’re still taking down the tents. We’re still processing two weeks of talks. But the quick NZSM audit on what Amber Rudd called the “the most important meeting ever held in the UK” – or arguably anywhere – is:

  • it did keep 1.5 alive, just barely (see yesterday’s SM daily for details);
  • it did ratchet up Cop’s ambition and establish a vital framework for global carbon trading;
  • it didn’t fail just because of a change of context in the use of the word “coal”; but
  • it didn’t alter the brute fact that the world is currently on track to warm disastrously before it cools, if it ever does.

We’ll talk this through at next week’s Open News and produce a to-do list for the planet as promised after that. In the meantime one question Cop26 asked but didn’t answer is whether the Cop process is talking itself out of a job.

Non-Core Cop. On day nine of the main event a Nicaraguan delegate noted that 10 countries produce 80 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. It made you wonder: why not put those countries in a room and avoid the need for consensus among 200?

This is a question that occurred to the host country. The UK government framed Cop as a drive for deals on coal, cars, cash and trees. None of these was a core Cop goal. None had any part in Cop’s formal agenda, which is global, not sectoral. It focuses on processes, not headlines. 

But the UK government needed headlines and results. Its tactics were borderline subversive. Its results were patchy:

On coal. Alok Sharma set himself the target of consigning coal to history and set himself up in the process. The end is not in sight for coal. Cop26 did not sound coal’s death knell, whatever Boris Johnson thinks. India and China made sure of that by vetoing the “phase out” wording in the communiqué. But a non-Cop pact signed by 190 countries to wind down production did reinforce an underlying trend away from coal, and a separate partnership with South Africa to help with the rapid decommissioning of coal-fired power plants could prove a model for other developing countries.

On cars. This one crashed as a headline. The host’s hope was for broad support for a new declaration of intent to transition to 100 per cent zero emission new cars and vans in leading markets by 2035 and worldwide by 2040. Ford, GM, Jaguar Landrover and Mercedes Benz signed. So did the UK, Norway and Canada. But Germany, the US and Japan didn’t, and four of the five biggest manufacturers didn’t either, among them VW and Toyota. No matter. EVs are here to stay.

On cash. The hosts had three bites at this cherry:

  • Fossil fuel financing. The UK proposed an end to funding for foreign fossil fuel projects and 30 countries and financial institutions signed it, among them the US, Germany and the European Investment Bank. It only covers public money but still counts as a success
  • Climate finance. Cop26 was supposed to line up the $100 billion-a-year in annual climate mitigation finance for poorer countries promised in Paris. Considering the need for much more, an agreement in principle to start payments next year at the earliest counts as a fail
  • Gfanz. The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero assembles financial institutions with assets worth $130 trillion notionally in search of climate-friendly investments. Harnessed by carbon markets harmonised under the newly-agreed Article 6 framework, this could amount to something. By itself it counts as fantasy

On trees. The so-called Glasgow leaders’ declaration on forests and land-use attracted 130 signatures including that of Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro. It aims to reverse forest loss by 2030, but Indonesia backed out after having second thoughts about the deadline. It didn’t back out of a separate agreement to limit trade in forest products.

In addition to the UK’s one-syllable headline grabbers, this Cop featured big non-core announcements by India (net zero by 2070) and China (peak coal before 2030 if possible).

The verdict. By themselves these non-core announcements would have looked flimsy and definitely not worth a gathering of 30,000 people for two weeks. But the core Cop process delivered essential progress on carbon trading and… the core Cop process, which now requires new national targets every year, not every five. So Cop lives. 

watch now

Catch up on our series of ThinkIns at The New York Times Climate Hub in Glasgow

engagement and activism

Spinning the planet
A different kind of climate activist is starting to appear – the sort that wears a suit and tie. Since before Copenhagen, a network of 100 public relations professionals in 20 countries has been using the same messaging tactics that oil companies once employed to cast doubt on climate science – to do exactly the reverse. In an interview last week with Politico, Tom Brookes, CEO of the Global Strategic Communications Council, revealed how his firm does much of the planning for Greta Thunberg’s press conferences and pushes soundbites from UN climate reports. The GSCC has only a fraction of the funding (between €15 and €20 million) that oil firms spend on spin but its presence is well-felt, including at Cop26, and it’s backed by corporate heavyweights like Hewlett and Ikea. It takes a “flotilla” approach, using a “range of different actors who are quite visible in the climate debate” to push a narrative. So far it’s hard to tell what effect that’s had. But worth watching.


Netting zero
FIFA announced at Cop last week that it was going to reduce emissions by half by 2030 and reach net zero by 2040. But going ahead with plans to host World Cups every two years with an expanded tournament of 48 teams is an own-goal if the aim is to cut carbon. As for the next one in Qatar, the plan is for the whole affair to be carbon neutral. That means “measuring, mitigating and offsetting” a predicted 3.6 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions – although it’s not clear how much will be accounted for by planting trees. In terms of waste and water use, specific numbers and timeframes don’t appear to exist. So here’s a more concrete stat: Qatar is the greatest per capita contributor of carbon emissions in the world. If FIFA and the Qatari hosts are going to be taken seriously on their pledges to decarbonise football, they’ll need to provide some proper plans.


Sharm el-booked
The extra importance attached to next year’s Cop because of the new requirement to update emissions ambitions every year means it’s going to cost you to be there unless you move fast. The dates are 7-18 November 2022. The venue is Sharm el-Sheikh on the Red Sea. The Ritz Carlton and Four Seasons are already sold out. The relatively economical Mövenpick still has rooms, but at nearly £200 a night. And Airbnb has a presence there, but not a big one: for the dates in question a total of 28 properties are available as of this Tuesday morning. And let’s not start on towels on sun-loungers.

science and technology

New old nukes
The nuclear power pavilion at Cop was one of the loneliest in Zone D, tucked away at the back near a stand shared by the poorest countries of ex-Soviet Central Asia. There were plenty of uniformed nuke advocates, but not many people wanting to talk to them. Which just shows that Cop is not necessarily an accurate reflection of real world interest. Last week Rolls Royce announced it was leading a £405 million consortium to build a new fleet of mini (“small modular”) reactors to provide carbon-free baseload power for a grid that’s going to need a lot more of it. And today the FT reports that the French Perrodo family is part of the consortium because its advisors think the energy transition is not feasible without “heavy reliance on nuclear power”. Why Rolls? It’s been building small modular reactors for decades for submarines. Also, there’s not much competition. Hitachi was long rumoured to be entering the SMR market but pulled out of the much bigger £20 billion Wylfa project in North Wales last year. A source said last week it’s more into smart grids and conventional renewables now anyway.

Do share this around, and let us know what you think of it.

Thanks for reading.

Giles Whittell

Additional reporting by Barney Macintyre

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