COP26: It’s quite the buzz word at the minute isn’t it, cropping up every time you switch on the news or look at a newspaper. But what’s it about? Well that is what we're here to give you the rundown on. You can also pop back to us later on as we will be giving some updates on the important information coming from Glasgow as they occur.
So, the simple stuff first. ‘COP’ stands for the Conference of Parties, it refers to the collection of 197 nations that agreed to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992. While climate change is all everyone is talking about for the past decade or so it didn’t just spring up out of the blue. It’s been a serious problem in need of addressing for a lot longer than that, hence the need to assemble a Convention on it. The ‘26’ signifies that this is the 26th time countries from all over the world have gathered under the UNFCCC.
The Paris Agreement
The last meeting of UNFCCC was in Argentina in 2019 but in terms of landmark policy forming action we need to look at COP21 which was held in Paris in 2015 and lead to the widely known Paris Agreement. You can click here and learn about the ins and outs of the Paris Agreement but if you’re here for highlights these are the big and important things to come from it:
- The nations involved in UNFCCC all collectively agreed that us humans are a driving factor in global warming through our increased greenhouse gas emissions -this agreement in itself is a massive deal. If left unchecked the increase in emissions would lead to a cataclysmic increase in the earth's temperature by 4˚C, which would be directly responsible for global heatwaves, melting ice caps, drought, reduced air quality, and crop reduction, to name but a few things.
- In an effort to avoid all of these terrible things happening to the planet, the Convention members put into place a clear framework designed to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit the global temperature increase to a safer ~2˚C while putting plans in place to get the increase closer to 1.5˚C. Each country set emission reduction pledges, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC’s) and they are to be reviewed every 5 years to monitor progress and push for improvement.
- Correcting a century worth of emissions isn’t cheap and this makes it somewhat inaccessible to poorer countries. With this in mind the Paris Agreement restated the commitment for more affluent countries to provide $1bn annually by 2020 to support developing countries dealing with the consequences of climate change and to develop greener economies.
COP21 was six years ago now, and with COP26 upon us it’s time to look back and see how the parties have held up against their promises.
The biggest stir to the Paris Agreement came from former President Trump putting into motion the US leaving the agreement shortly after coming into office. With the US responsible for approximately 15% of the world’s global greenhouse gas emissions this was massively troubling. Unity was the cornerstone of the agreement and for one of the most powerful countries in the world to withdraw was a knock. However, the US stood alone in their decision to pull out and immediately after taking office in 2021 President Biden re-joined the Convention and is more determined than ever to address global warming.
In terms of how we have collectively performed in the tasks outlined by the agreement progress has definitely been made. In 2014, the globe was on course to warm 4˚C by 2100, figures this year from Climate Action Tracker, now approximate warming of 2.9˚C. This improvement has come from all countries doing their part. The EU cracked down on industrial emissions, globally renewable energy initiatives have been ramped up, and while perhaps not enough has been done to curb fossil fuel emissions there is definitely a decrease. These are all signs of a definite and obvious improvement, but is it enough? The simple answer: No, not really.
You recall the list of terrible things listed above that could happen as a result of global warming. Now think back to the reports you’ve heard recently about there being rain instead of snow in the arctic. Even cast your mind back to the unseasonably warm summer we had in Ireland this year alone, and how that was actually a very mild and pleasant October we’ve just had. The signs are there that the earth’s climate is shifting. Progress is certain, but improvements are needed.
Perhaps if the pledges made by parties in the Paris Agreement had been achieved there wouldn’t be such a dire outcry that reaching 2˚C is simply not enough any more, but alas progress fell short and now we as a global community need to accept that it’s reduce global warming to 1.5˚C or see civilizations destroyed by the effects of climate change. As it stands, reaching 1.5˚C will still see devastation but it can be survived. Not standing strong on commitments will undeniably change the face of the earth by the end of the century and while we won’t be around to see it, there’s a very strong chance that there won’t be anything left to see for our descendants.
Enter COP26; an opportunity for nations around the world to come to the table and commit to real and substantial change that will get us back on track.
Approximately 130 heads of state and thousands of diplomats from nearly 200 countries around the world have landed in Scotland to do just this. Notable attendees include President Joe Biden from the USA and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, not to imply that the other thousands who have flocked to Glasgow are not of note, but these two in particular happen to be in the top 5 countries for greenhouse gas emissions.
China’s leader Xi Jinping has not travelled to COP26 and instead submitted a written statement regarding China’s commitment to climate action and has sent an emissary to represent him. This is concerning to all as while his statement touts a path towards “a green and low-carbon path to development”, the fact remains that China is responsible for nearly 28% of current global emissions and their demonstrations of commitment are lacklustre.
Another high profile absence is Russian President Vladimir Putin. Citing concerns over Covid in Putin declined to travel to Scotland; however, he recently addressed a G20 summit in Rome stating that Russia is ahead of the curve with 86% of nuclear energy, renewable sources, and natural gas. These assurances fall short of reassuring as natural gas still emits considerable amounts of carbon dioxide, still generates greenhouse gases, and it’s pipes are vulnerable to methane leaks. Methane as you will hear often and loudly is a big no-no in the climate action game.
As of when this is going live (Thursday 3rd of November) the biggest news from COP26 is the commitment to reduce methane emissions (told you it would come up) and a commitment to protect the world's forests.
President Biden and President Von der Leyen (President of the European Commission) have brought the Global Methane Pledge to the forefront with 105 countries signed up and dedicated to reducing methane emissions by 30% by 2030.
Commitments have also been given by over 100 countries (significantly Brazil who has seen significant deforestation since the appointment of its current president Jair Bolsonaro took office in 2019) to protect up to 85% of the world's forests in a bid to end deforestation by 2030. Forests are, as we all know, key to curtailing carbon emissions by acting as carbon sinks. This occurs when a forest absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than it emits. Efforts to reduce deforestation will focus on reducing the financial incentives associated with forestry, and pledges by both governments and private companies pledging $19bn to protect and restore forests across the globe.
Over the coming days, until all delegates from COP26 return home, the pressure will be on to get the details hammered out as countries figure out how to meet their still undelivered promises from 2015 as well as their newer commitments from this week.
Update Thursday 4th November
A coalition of 18 countries have come together to phase out coal fired power plants. During the global pandemic Coal consumption reduced by 4%. However, due to recovering economic activities, 2021 rates are projected to rise to 4.5% surpassing 2019 levels. A full list of the 18 countries hasn’t been released yet however it includes Poland, Vietnam, Chile, Egypt, and Morocco. At present, China, India, and the US are the 3 biggest global burners of coal, their agreement with the coalition has not been confirmed yet. All countries and organizations in the UNFCCC have committed to end all investment in coal generated power but did not give a timeline for this action.
A group known as the Global Energy Alliance, composed of philanthropic foundations and international development banks have announced a $10.5bn fund to help developing countries move their energy sources from coal, oil, and gas and into green alternatives.
Update Wednesday 10th November
The Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance which was co-chaired by Denmark and Costa Rica seems to have failed to hit the mark of encouraging new countries to join in banning new fossil fuel exploration. Countries that signed up include France, Ireland, Wales, Sweden, Greenland, Quebec, California and New Zealand. These countries will set a deadline on new oil and gas licencing. However, they are not big oil producing nations so while valant the effect will be minimal. The Alliance did not convince larger oil producing countries such as the US, Russia, China, or Saudi Arabia to commit.
The draft of the COP26 negotiations was released overnight and calls for countries to strengthen their pledges and commitments in 2022. A wide held criticism of COP26 is that they pledges made by countries haven’t gone far enough to tackle the climate crisis, and according to figures from Climate Action Tracker this is entirely accurate and with pledges as they stand warming would be at ~2.6˚C by 2030, which is far off the 1.5˚C we need to be at.
Update Thursday 11th November
In further proof that the combustion engine is on the way out 11 car makers (including Ford, General Motors, MercedesBenz, Jaguar Land Rover, and Volvo), along with numerous countries, governments, and independent investors (a full list can be found here) have pledged to phase out the sales of new gasoline and diesel powered vehicles by 2040 worldwide and 2035 in “leading markets”
COP26 and Ireland
In Glasgow, Micheal Martin declared that “Ireland is willing to play it’s part” in tackling climate change. The means with which we will do this is by agreeing to participate in the global effort of reducing methane emissions and to reduce deforestation by 30% by 2030, a 51% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and carbon neutrality by 2050.
If you’re thinking this all sounds like a lot to achieve, you wouldn’t be alone in thinking it.
The commitments are large and achieving them will be costly. Most concerning for Ireland is reducing methane emissions as the bulk of our emissions come from agriculture (agriculture was estimated to have accounted for just over 92% of methane emissions in Ireland in 2020). The Farmers Journal has commissioned a report from KPMG that estimates this 30% reduction in methane could cost the agriculture industry over 56 thousand jobs. A prospect that is undoubtedly gravely concerning for a country so steeped in agriculture.
Government officials are encouraging diversification in agriculture to achieve reductions while maintaining jobs. For example, the EU wants Ireland to reach a target of 25% organic farming, currently this is only at approximately 2%. There are also companies such as Mootral and Bovaer who are developing supplements to add to cattle feed which would in turn reduce their methane emissions. The issue with both of these solutions is the cost involved. Galway Roscommon Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice estimated that to get Ireland to 7-8% Organic farming would cost €250m, similarly supplements to reduce emissions in herds would be additional costs.
Other ways Ireland is committed to reducing emissions is through the introduction of just under 1 million electric vehicles to Irish roads before the end of the decade. Ireland is also to become “a leader in electrifying transport in the EU”, pushed along by the purchase of a new fleet of zero-emission vehicles for the public sector. There are also plans for a shift towards “active travel”, namely walking and cycling over the next 9 years.
Other ambitious goals include “deep retrofitting” of 500,000 homes across Ireland by 2030 including the installation of 400,000 heat pumps. Irish homes are responsible for approximately 10% of greenhouse gas emissions and 25% of overall energy consumption. By upgrading insulation, replacing gas boilers with heat pumps, and upgrading windows and doors the government intends to reduce six million tonnes of emissions in 2017 to less than four million tonnes by 2030. Once again the big recurring issue raises it's head: cost. It’s estimated to cost and average of €56,000 to fully retrofit a home with all the above. Government plans to introduce a grant scheme and low interest loans to achieve its 2030 target will be essential as 66% of people said cost was their biggest concern in completing a retrofit of their homes. Furthermore, with plans to ban the installation of fossil fuel boilers in new builds after 2023 an affordable system is desperately needed to meet demand.
So What Now...
With COP26 coming to a close, what's actually come from it? Activist Gretta Thunberg has come out saying “COP26 is a failure” and accusing those participating in “greenwashing” and using “fancy rhetoric” to disguise inaction. Projections show she’s probably right, as you can see above the largest fossil fuel emitters are not doing enough to make a substantial difference by 2030. While that doesn’t mean it’s all hopeless and we shouldn’t bother any more, it still means there is more of an uphill battle for those doing the right thing and doubling down on cleaner energies, reducing emissions and waste, and banning harmful fuels.
Our view on COP26 is that it hasn’t taken a hard enough stance on phasing out fossil fuels and therefore curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
COP26 is about world leaders getting together to set goals that the world will abide by. Governments will then put plans into place to make these goals happen to the best of their ability. While all this is happening time is being wasted by companies across the globe.
As a business you don’t need the government to tell you that you can make a difference to your operations and supply chain that positively affects the environment. No law has to be passed to switch to energy efficient lighting for your office, or to go paperless. You don’t need a governmental decree to make your company cars electric or to source your products ethically. Those choices are with business owners and in a lot of cases they’re changes that can be made with relatively little hassle if you’re committed to doing something different.
In fact, if you’re looking for some examples of businesses who have done just that look no further than our EcoHeros guide right here, because while the changes we all make in our homes may seem like little ones they have a ripple effect. Your decision to buy sustainably tells businesses and suppliers that commerce is changing and they need to meet the demand which will push them to make the more sustainable choice. Enough ripples make a tide and that's when real change is made.