Pledges, pledges, pledges – COP26 has seen a lot of them. The word ‘transformation’ has been used in abundance in the past 2 weeks, with powerful people representing countries, institutions and brands vowing to make change that is real and tangible in this age of climate emergency.
The pledges are of course no surprise – this is what these conferences are for: to come together and agree on collective actions that will make the world a better place and save the livelihoods of future generations. But pledges have been made in the past and proper actions have failed to follow.
Now that COP is over for another year, the world watches to see if the commitments to transform will be taken seriously, or whether it was just one big greenwashing fest. Many expect the latter to be true, and for good reasons. One of the memorable failings of this year’s conference was the disproportionate voice given to delegates from the fossil fuel industry, which had a larger delegation than any individual country, according to a study by Global Witness. On a more optimistic note, fossil fuels were explicitly mentioned as a major cause of climate change for the first time in the decision text, a fact that some are choosing to see as progress and a stepping stone in building momentum ahead of next year’s COP.
Solving the climate crisis is not a straightforward task. It requires international collaboration between governments and corporations, and us, of course, the people. This is key to remember going forward: the importance of a united front and looking past self-interest. The question that remains is – will enough really be done to make the change we need? Only time will tell.
One thing that this conference has crystalised is the very real impact that climate change is having on mental health. People are afraid, and that is making them anxious. Many of us are questioning what the world is going to look like in 10, 20, 30 years’ time, and what our place will be in it. Alexis Pascaris, an environmental policy researcher and activist from Michigan, shared an issue that many young people are grappling with: deciding whether to have children or not. She pondered: “am I allowed to add to this mess?”
In this week’s blog, we’ve broken down commitments and controversies by sector. Find our final judgement of the conference on our Say-Do Barometer at the end of the blog, along with more interesting perspectives and our pick of the most creative campaigns around COP.
Sector Round-Up: Food and Farming:
Agriculture, deforestation and other changes in land use account for about a quarter of humanity’s planet-heating greenhouse gas emissions – so, it’s no surprise that reforming the sector was a crucial focus of this year’s summit.
During the event’s ‘Nature and Land-Use Day’, 45 governments, led by the UK, pledged investment to protect nature and shift to more sustainable ways of farming. As part of the Prime Minister’s commitment to spend at least £3 billion of International Climate Finance on nature and biodiversity, the UK will launch a new £500 million package to help protect rainforests from deforestation. The funding promises to create thousands of green jobs throughout rainforest regions and generate £1 billion of green private sector investment to tackle climate change around the world.
Yet many industry representatives and campaigners feel not enough attention has been paid to food and farming at COP26, despite it being one of the key ways to cut emissions over the next few decades. Food served at the canteen was criticised, with nearly 60% of dishes containing meat or dairy. Campaign group Animal Rebellion described it as the equivalent of “serving cigarettes at a lung cancer conference”.
Fashion brands such as Burberry and H&M are among 130 companies that have pledged to halve their greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. During the second week of COP, these prominent brands lifted their target from a previous goal of cutting emissions by one-third that was set in 2018.
However, the signatories to the updated UN fashion charter represent just a fraction of the sprawling apparel and footwear industry. Brands have 12 months to submit plans on how they will reach the updated target.
Over 50 brands, suppliers, retailers, NGOs and industry associations are also supporting a request to governments for trade policy to incentivise the use of environmentally-preferred materials. Presented by Textile Exchange at COP26, the request calls for preferential tariffs on materials like organic cotton and recycled fibres.
A group of 50 countries committed to develop climate-resilient and low-carbon health systems in response to growing evidence of the impact of climate change on people’s health. 45 of these countries have also committed to transform their health systems to be low-carbon and more sustainable. Fourteen have set a target date to reach net zero carbon emissions on or before 2050.
For the NHS this will mean:
- Working with stakeholders to establish how to embed issues like net zero, biodiversity and climate resilience in the NHS Constitution for England
- A zero-emission fleet, with the world’s first zero-emission ambulance unveiled at COP26
- Requirement for NHS suppliers to publish a carbon reduction plan
- £330 million investment in climate-smart healthcare and low-carbon hospitals
- A new net zero healthcare building standard applied to the existing commitment to build 48 new hospitals before 2030.
The summit’s transport day saw the transition to zero emissions vehicles gathering pace, with some of the largest car manufacturers working together to make all new car sales zero emission by 2040 and by 2035 in leading markets.
The world’s three largest car markets, the US, Germany and China, have not signed the declaration at this stage, but businesses, cities and regions in these geographies have. However, a report warned that weak EU vehicle emissions targets could allow Europe’s biggest carmakers to produce millions more petrol and diesel cars than necessary up to 2030 in a “wasted decade” for cutting carbon pollution.
From the roads to the skies, 18 nations including the UK, US, Canada and France signed a new declaration in support of the development of emissions targets for aviation that align with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C temperature pathway. These nations are collectively responsible for more than 40% of global annual emissions from aviation.
While Boris Johnson claims this year’s summit has “sounded the death knell for coal power”, many were furious with the late decision to “phase down” rather than “phase out” coal. The wording change was made after a late intervention by China and India.
Spokesman Asad Rehman, who gave a blistering speech in the conference centre as part of the closing plenary, said: “This agreement is an utter betrayal of the people. It is hollow words on the climate emergency from the richest countries, with an utter disregard of science and justice. The UK government greenwash and PR have spun us off course.” But it remains the first time plans to reduce coal have been mentioned in such a climate deal.
Meanwhile, ‘Fusion energy’ has promised a step change in the way the world’s future energy demands are met in a low-carbon, safe and sustainable way. This was the message from scientists and engineers from the fusion energy community to world leaders on the final day of COP26. Fusion – the process that powers the sun and stars – promises a near-limitless low carbon energy source for the long term. It has the capability of meeting the global surge in electricity demand expected in the coming decades.
What else was discussed in the final week?
Science & Innovation:
Tackling climate change relies on the acceleration of science and innovation. Last week, over twenty governments and the European Commission committed to four additional “Missions” as part of Mission Innovation, a platform for governments and the private sector to collaborate on cleaner technologies. Last week’s additions include accelerating technologies to facilitate urban transitions, eliminating emissions from industry, enabling CO2 removal, and producing renewable fuels, chemicals, and materials.
These commitments are consistent with the Glasgow Breakthroughs, which aim to make clean technologies more affordable and accessible across four heavily polluting sectors: power generation, road transport, steel, and agriculture. Driving this is a commitment to make clean hydrogen affordable and globally available by 2030.
Gender Day at COP26 was opened by a puppet named Little Amal, the Arabic word for hope. Little Amal, representing a Syrian refugee girl, drew attention to those living on the front lines of climate change. The impacts of the climate crisis are far from gender neutral. Devastating floods, extreme heat, and drought will disproportionately affect women and girls who are on average poorer, less educated and more dependent on subsistence farming. Those with the fewest resources will be hardest hit, and pre-existing vulnerabilities linked to poverty will be multiplied.
Although women are most impacted by the climate crisis, they were underrepresented in the decision-making processes at COP26. This is unlikely to change any time soon – gender parity in global climate leadership is expected to only be achieved by 2068.
Funding from higher income countries to lower income countries to help finance their response to climate change was a major sticking point at COP26. One major consideration in the drafting of the Glasgow Climate Pact was how to address the debate over who is responsible for footing the bill of the climate crisis, particularly when it comes to lower income and rapidly developing economies. Highlighting the disconnect between funding needs and expectations, India requested $1tn in international funding as part of its pledge to reach net zero by 2070.
As the discussions on funding continued, several financial pledges materialised. Starting the week, thirteen governments committed to a $232 million collective pledge, the Adaptation Fund, including first-time donors the US and Canada, which according to the UNFCCC was the highest-ever single mobilisation to the fund.
The Say-Do Barometer:
Keep the 1.5C goal alive. That was the ambition coming into COP26. John Kerry, America’s Climate Envoy, described the summit as “the last, best hope” to keep global warming within this target and Sir David Attenborough urged delegates to “turn tragedy into triumph”.
So, now that the negotiations are over and the Glasgow Climate Pact has been agreed, have the intentions of this year’s COP been matched by action? Can we call it a success or failure?
The reality is somewhere in between, and as a result, we’re scoring the conference a slightly optimistic 6/10 on PN’s Say-Do Barometer.
It’s easy to be cynical, even fatalistic, about the purpose of COP. This was perhaps best summed up by The Times’ Science Editor, Tom Whipple, who wrote: “In 30 years of COPs, of so many initiatives and agreements, of so many business-class flights to conference centres in attractive locations, there is a graph you can see of carbon concentration in the atmosphere. Each year it increments by the same amount. It is as if nothing has happened.”
Was this year’s COP a turning point? Understandably, many climate activists, media and delegates have expressed anger and frustration with the lack of urgency detailed in the final commitments – winning slowly is still losing in their eyes. Last week, a sobering report from the Climate Action Tracker found that temperatures would still rise by 2.4C by the end of the century based on countries’ short-term targets for the next decade. There was also disappointment over the lack of a clear financial plan to compensate the world’s most vulnerable nations from the effects of climate change. And while actions speak louder than words, the watered-down language in the final Pact, particularly around coal, has quite rightly raised more than a few eyebrows.
So why the optimism? There has been a renewed vigour and single-mindedness to this year’s conference. The science is unequivocal, and despite the criticism over the wording, this is the first time that a global climate deal has explicitly stated that fossil fuel consumption is a major driver of climate change and set out a plan to reduce it.
About time too some might say. In fact, the science is the easy part. Now it’s about making sure that progress isn’t hampered by politics or self-interest, although things are beginning to shift here too. As Paul Polman wrote: “What gives me hope? Above all, it is seeing the tone beginning to harden against the foot-dragging, self-interested minority.”
And let’s not forget that progress is being made. Three years ago, only 30 percent of countries had net zero targets. Now 90 percent do. Ten years ago, electric vehicles were a pipedream. Now they’re becoming the norm. Renewable energy and green technologies are becoming cheaper and more accessible. 80 percent of FTSE100 companies now have net zero goals in place.
Perhaps it’s naïve to think that the climate crisis could be solved in two weeks. The hard work lies ahead and what happens next is up to all of us. The pandemic has shown us what can be achieved when a crisis hits. When the need is there, we’re willing and able to invest in solutions, and modify our behaviour, for the greater good.
As citizens and consultants, we need to keep holding our politicians, our clients and each other to account. With our clients in particular, we should not be afraid to nudge, to challenge, and to guide. For those who are ‘doing’ but not ‘saying’, we need to encourage them to use their influence and their voice for the better. And for those who are ‘saying’ but not ‘doing’, we need to actively push them to do more. Only then can we edge closer to a 10/10 on closing the say-do gap.
Cop26 is doomed, and the hollow promise of ‘net zero’ is to blame Opinion piece by Yanis Varoufakis, co-founder of DiEM25 (Democracy in Europe Movement) and former finance minister of Greece who argues net zero commitments are a cover for not restricting emissions.
Spotlight on gender at COP26: 8 inspiring women tackling the climate crisis Edie’s list of women whose voices have been integral to the summit so far, including activists from the global south and UN representatives.
We need more female leaders in the fight against climate change Opinion piece by Maria Tanyag, research fellow and lecturer in international relations at the Australian National University, calling for diverse participation and representation in climate negotiations.
Two degrees is a death sentence for island nations Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley delivers a stark warning on the effects of a rise in global temperature on small island nations like hers.
COP26 inside and out: politics and protest in Glasgow – in pictures Photography highlights from Murdo MacLeod, who spent two weeks documenting COP26.
COP Campaigns We Like:
Co-op 26 The play on words made it a no-brainer but this campaign from the ethical retailer does a nice job of educating people on how they can positively impact climate change at a community level.
The [Uncertain] Four Seasons This striking campaign from AKQA uses climate data and weather AI to recompose Vivaldi’s ‘The Four Seasons’ to reflect the environmental changes in a post-climate change world.
People Just Do Nothing – About Climate Change People Just Do Nothing’s Allan ‘Seapa’ Mustafa and Hugo Chegwin collaborated with Virgin Media O2 to create a special climate-focused episode of their hit Kurupt FM podcast, Chattin’ S**t, to encourage young people to get involved in the debate.