Angry and impatient youth take to the streets of Glasgow on November 5, 2021, as the first week of the United Nations Climate Summit ends. His anger is matched by anxiety in the conference hall as the enormity of what is to be achieved in such a short period of time hovers over a complex process that can become sclerotic.
I have been involved in climate negotiations for many years as a former senior UN official, and I am currently in Glasgow. Here’s what I’ve been seeing and hearing, in and out of talks, at the start of the second week.
Change in goals from 2050 to 2030
To slow climate change, every part of our economies will change, and this is reflected in conference sessions running parallel to formal negotiations and in constituencies that turned out to be in real strength the first week – executives of central banks, global CEOs. Banks and institutional investors, young people, Indigenous people leaders, faith communities, advocacy groups and the world’s media.
This year’s summit marked a shift from pledging to reach net zero emissions by 2050 to focusing on action to cut emissions by 2030.
Research shows the world needs to cut global emissions by 45% by 2030 to keep global warming below 1.5 °C (2.7 F) compared to pre-industrial times, an objective of the Paris climate agreement .
The Energy Transition Commission, a coalition of businesses and non-governmental organizations, calculated that if the commitments made in COP26 are met, it would cut the gap between today and the 1.5 C trajectory for carbon dioxide emissions in half, and for methane. will reduce it by about 40%. In total, the world would be close to 9 gigatonnes of emissions reduction needs of 22 gigatons.
it’s a start.
Big Deals, Big Claims
The first week of COP26 was all about building momentum – the big deal and the big claims outside the negotiations, with various coalitions of countries, companies and more, pushing the action.
Some of those pledges will likely collapse like a soufflé in the coming weeks and months, when a company’s board balks at certain details or when they re-run the numbers under more scrutiny.
But there were notable coalitions announcing plans to cut methane, end deforestation, and shift international public finance away from fossil fuels and to clean energy. The international financial community, attracting accusations of greenwashing, formed a broad coalition of firms committed to net zero.
The UN Secretary-General announced an expert group to propose clear standards for companies and others with net zero commitments.
formal talks intensified
At this point in talks, the UK – which chairs COP26 – will make efforts to wrap up the few remaining parts of the rulebook for implementing the Paris climate agreement.
It would also push for agreement on a “cover statement,” which would cover a whole raft of issues. At this point, it’s a long list of issues ranging from human rights, youth engagement and a proper transition to more technical and procedural issues, such as how countries’ climate commitments and actions are to be recalibrated each year and to adapt. How to ensure flow of finance, not just mitigation.
A “High Ambition Coalition” is emerging, led by the Climate Vulnerability Forum, a grouping of about 20 countries facing high risk and sometimes existential threats from climate change. They have called for a climate emergency agreement that would include: a plan to provide finance to help them adapt to climate change over the next few years, an agreement to increase those funds beyond that period, progress on finance that includes climate change The changes include loss and damage, an agreement on carbon markets, and the process of increasing countries’ commitments each year until the world is back on track.
Now, in the second week, government ministers from around the world are personally joining forces in easing log jams and taking charge from their interlocutors.
connecting inside and out
The gap between what is happening inside the talks, and what the press releases are saying from events outside the negotiating rooms, could widen.
Inside, negotiators cannot agree on the billions of dollars in climate finance that are expected to flow from rich countries to help poor countries. Yet on the outside, the press release discussing the trillions of dollars in private investment committed to net-zero emissions means the problem is fixed.
And outside, while some analysts tally commitments to see whether each moves the world closer to a trajectory that keeps warming below 1.5 C, discussions on transparency and reporting on climate progress have stalled.
But the atmosphere is not all bleak. There is optimism that an agreement on carbon markets can be reached after painfully lengthy talks at summits in Madrid two years ago and in Katowice three years ago.
Ultimately, the Glasgow Conference can only be said to be successful if emissions slow and reverse and wealthier nations are able to finance and genuinely support the adaptation of poorer communities to become more resilient to climate-induced crises to come. Can you
opportunities for talent
While that’s all sorted out, think about this: In every meeting I — with green banks and their micro-entrepreneurs in developing countries, Silicon Valley CEOs, finance heads, management consultants and mayors — there’s an additional concern that goes Beyond the need for better policy, new regulation and a bolder political class. Their concern is about the talent pipeline or the lack thereof. As every country, company, fund and bank shifts to a net-zero pathway, the world will need engineers, data analysts, policy experts and planners to course and lead.
The transition is underway, Glasgow needs to deliver, and the world needs to train and prepare to sprint by 2030 in the race to zero emissions.
This story is part of The Conversation’s coverage of COP26, the Glasgow Climate Conference, by experts from around the world.
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