The Economy, Land & Climate Podcast

How are preparations for COP26 going?

July 15, 2021 Economy Land & Climate Insight Team Episode 5
The Economy, Land & Climate Podcast
How are preparations for COP26 going?
Show Notes Transcript

The COP26 lead at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), Gareth Redmond-King talks to Alasdair about the preparations for the next climate talks in November.  
He explains what the crucial discussions will be on, the UK's role as a climate leader, recent odd missteps leading to the talks,  his take on existing progress and how he thinks talks will go.


Alasdair:

Hello, and welcome to the economy land and climate podcast. My name is Alasdair and in this episode, I spoke to Gareth Redmond-King, the COP26, or climate talks lead at the energy and climate intelligence unit.

Gareth:

The progress that we still need to make before we get there is daunting.

Alasdair:

I began by asking, Gareth, what the upcoming COP was, and why he thought it was important.

Gareth:

COP is the Conference of the Parties. It's a meeting of the parts of the United Nations that deals with climate change - the snappily titled United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. That's somewhere in the region of 200 countries and blocs who are signatories and members parties to the UN F, Triple C. Who are you know, the the nations of the world who work together to try and tackle climate change. When they come together on an annual basis, they do it at the Conference of the Parties, which is the COP, and you get some clue as to how long they've been doing it for by the fact that the one in Glasgow is COP26, which means the 26th meeting of this. They started doing this back at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. I guess the one other thing to say about COP 26 is it should have happened last year. It was due to happen in November 2020. But obviously COVID came along and made that impossible. So now it's taking place in November 2021. Why is this one important? Because it falls five years, five plus one years after given COVID delay, falls five years after the Paris Agreement was agreed at COP 21 in 2015. And this is a moment at which countries should be ratcheting up their ambition in terms of the action they're taking on climate the commitments in the Paris Agreement was to keep warming to well below two degrees to aim for one and a half degrees. The the actions that are currently logged as it were, by the UN, put us somewhere between two and three degrees of warming. So there's more ambition needed from most parties to to the UN f Triple C. So that's why it's that's one of the reasons why it's particularly important. And you know, it's time as we go into a really critical decade for climate action, the 2020s. We heard from the world's climate scientists a couple of years ago, the IPCC in their report on one and a half degrees, that if we carry on emitting at current rates, we've only got about a decade before we lock in one and a half degrees. And we know from the science that underpins all of that, that the impacts get worse and worse beyond one and a half degrees, and one and a half degrees is kind of deemed as, as inverted commas safe level of warming, it's not safe, we see the impacts now one degree, but it is deemed to get much more dangerous beyond that. So it's the critical moment for countries to ratchet up their climate ambition to cough up on their promises, the rich countries to cough up on their promises of funding to support poorer countries, to adapt to climate change, and to take climate action. And you know, this decade, the action that we take now, particularly the early part of this decade, is going to determine whether we're successful at keeping warming to one and a half degrees or not.

Alasdair:

Can you say something about what the pivotal issues for the summit are going to be? And what it will really depend on in terms of being a success in the end.

Unknown:

So there's kind of two levels to this. One is the Paris Agreement was signed, and you know, and adopted, it was signed and became the foundation basis of action to tackle climate change. Five years ago, there are still technical bits of work to make that agreement work. There's still the agreements on what's known as the Paris rulebook. So agreements on how carbon is traded between nations and between nations and companies, for example, applying a common time frame to all of the emissions pledges that are made by parties to the agreements, there are so there are technical things like that, that really need to be nailed down, and just to make sure that the Paris Agreement works and works smoothly. And then there are the big issues about you know, what we need to do to make sure that we're acting quickly enough to keep warming to one and a half degrees. And I'd sort of characterize that as real plans, real money and real action. Real plans, actually to do what come what countries say they're going to do. So the UK has set a really ambitious climate targets one of the first major economies to commit to net zero by 2050. It's set itself a target that it will cut emissions by at least 68% by 2030, 78% by 2035, that is leading edge in terms of the rate of cutting emissions, but it needs action to do it, it needs to submit a decent long term strategy, it needs to have real plans, policies, investments in place to do it. And that's true of all of the countries it's no good just setting a target you need to be you know, you can't just say you're going to run a marathon, you need to do the training as well. You know, you need to make it real. So real plans, I would say is one thing, real money needs to be on the table, the rich countries committed to providing $100 billion a year by 2020, to poorer nations to support them to take climate action to adapt to climate impact, and to pay for loss and damage caused by those climate impacts. And as things stand, even after some additional money that was committed by some of the nations who attended the G7 Cornwall in June, even then we still look as though we're maybe 17 billion short of that promise. So that's important, not just because those countries need that money to be able to take that action. But also because it's a promise. And if you don't deliver on promises, then you lose trust. And, you know, United Nations negotiations are hard enough without trying to do it in an environment where there just is no trust that people will live up to what they say they're going to do. And then the third thing is real actions, real actions that will actually kind of, you know, move this along very fast in 2020s, and put us on a decent trajectory. So it's real actions to stop, you know, to get rid of the bad stuff, if you like. So, commitments to phase out coal, to stop funding new coal, to get countries working together to stop deforestation, which is a huge threat, globally. Real action to to to speed up the transition from petrol and diesel cars to electric vehicles, for example. So real plans, real money, and then the real actions that actually make it happen.

Alasdair:

You mentioned that the UK has got very ambitious targets in terms of climate targets. And obviously, the UK is going to be hosting the climate talks. How credible do you think the UK now is as a kind of climate leader?

Gareth:

I think by any measure, the UK has been a climate leader for a number of years, it has significantly cut its emissions. It's led the way on, you know, deploying and developing, and therefore helping bring down the cost of some really important technologies for everyone to be able to cut their emissions like offshore wind, for example, where the UK I think I'm right in saying is still the single largest part of the global markets. And as I say, first major economy to commit to net zero by 2050. And at least 68% cut by 2030 is, you know, leading edge that puts it on track for net zero and net zero by mid century is embedded in the Paris Agreement. It's what the science says we need to do. So, you know, it's a real commitment. And so it has credibility from that point of view. But you need to be able to deliver you know, you need to be on track to deliver so there are some really big difficult things. It's the UK has achieved a lot in terms of decarbonizing its power supply with with offshore wind and onshore wind and solar. But it's much more difficult is decarbonizing heat in our homes, for example, and speeding up the transition from petrol and diesel to electric vehicles. But cutting emissions from our agriculture and food sector and addressing the emissions that we export, we consume a lot of goods that are made in countries around the world. We travel a lot on airplanes. And you know, the ships and planes involved in that process and the manufacturing process, for the things that we buy, they add to our footprints as well. There are lots of difficult, those don't count on our Paris target. Those last things don't count in our Paris target, but they're still important in terms of leading and supporting other countries to reduce their emissions. So there's some very difficult things that the UK needs to do. And then the UK has made some odd decisions in recent recent months and years, it's sort of sort of nearly opened a new coal mine, which I think would have been a dent to to climate leadership. It has unfortunately cuts Overseas Development Assistance from 0.7% of GDP to 0.5% of GDP. That is a difficult position to choose to take domestically when on the international stage you are asking fellow G7 members, G20 members, OECD countries to step up and give more money to deliver that 100 billion in climate finance. So there are great steps forward and some missteps along the way. Where the degree of really intensive diplomatic work that the UK is expected to deliver between now and COP26, to make sure that the COP is a success is a huge ask of anyone climate leader or not. And, you know, those missteps don't help. But there is a big job to do. Alok Sharma the COP president seems very committed to that. But this is I think, I think others who've other countries who've hosted difficult COPs in the past, I suspect the French would say this would point out that this is a whole, this needs to be a whole government effort. It can't it's not just on the hands of, of COP presidents and a team in Cabinet Office. This needs to be led by the Prime Minister, the Chancellor, the Foreign Secretary, this needs to be a whole government's efforts. And I think that's where the UK still probably needs to step up quite quickly.

Alasdair:

The role of the US - could you say a little bit about the new Biden administration and what impact that might have on climate talks?

Gareth:

I think the return of the US has been very significant. So far this year, we saw some some very significant commitments made by candidate Biden before he was elected. Climate was an issue in the US election in a way that it has never been before. President Biden has then made some very significant early steps in terms of committing to ambitious new emissions cuts pledges by the US to increasing the US's contribution to that 100 billion climate finance, and to convening countries, within, you know, before you even got to his 100 days mark in office, he convened a summit of 40 leading nations, a mixture of countries who are vulnerable to climate impacts, and countries who are big emitters, countries who are leading, countries who are not yet leading, so, you know, very, a very big sense this year, including at the G7, that the US is back, and the US is back at the table. And I think it would have been a very different, very much more difficult year and a very much, very much more difficult and more different run in COP26, if, you know, if the election had gone the other way. All of that said, it's not plain sailing. The US has huge challenges, we've already seen Biden's infrastructure funding. You know, we've seen the compromises he's needed to make to get that through Congress, but we still hear strong words from him about what he is going to do with the, you know, wafer thin majority he has in Congress without you know, without being sort of vulnerable to the filibuster. So I think, on the whole, it's an incredibly positive thing that the US is back. And there's a real sense that, you know, that helps give this difficult year of everything that we need to achieve at COP, some much needed additional momentum.

Alasdair:

There may be other events leading up to the cop that are important. Can you tell us about those if that's the case,

Gareth:

we have the G20 finance ministers meeting in July, we have a group of ministers being brought together by the cop host Alok Sharma here in London at the end of July, we have the United Nations General Assembly in September. And then the G20 leaders themselves meet at the end of October just before COP26 starts. Those are all critical moments to make real progress ahead of COP on those kind of real action real plans real money that's needed to make sure that the COP26 can deliver a deal that kind of keeps momentum going beyond the COP.

Alasdair:

Is it fair to say you sound mildly optimistic about the COP? And it's and how it's gonna go?

Gareth:

I think I think it depends what day you ask me as to whether I'm optimistic or pessimistic about the COP. I think I'm on most days optimistic about it, not least because if you kind of pause and step back and look at where we are globally, in terms of the commitments being made, in terms of some of the really important step up in climate action ambition that we've seen from the US, from China, who've yet to submit, and an NDC - an emissions pledge under Paris - to renew the one that they already have, but have said that they're aiming for net zero by 2060, which is what the Paris Agreement and the science require. So there have been some really significant steps that have moved us along, a lot. The conversation - this is much more, much more part of the political conversation that, again, that G7 leaders, you know, committed to action, to keep warming to one and a half degrees is a big deal. So we're, the environments that we are in, as we head towards the COP, is good. The progress that we still need to make before we get there is daunting, including closing that gap on the 100 billion, including some progress, you know, some progress on some of the, those sort of technicalities in the Paris rulebook, the preparatory meetings that were held, that would normally have been held in person in Bonn in June, were held online for three weeks, very, very difficult, lots of technical problems. If you want to know what that looked like, go and have a look at the SB bloopers Twitter feed that's some funny bits, you know, adds up to sort of worrying set of technical difficulties anyway, the point being that they didn't make enough progress. And so, there's still but still a lot of work to do for just over four months of time, before we get to COP26. So it's kind of its cautious optimism.

Alasdair:

And by the sounds of it, the court could, in theory fail before the the actual talks have even started in November, is that fair to say?

Gareth:

Well, this is why the climate finance is so important, because if we can't close that gap globally, then that's a really important promise that is already overdue, that is not delivered on when we know that poorer countries need that money, as well as needing people to live up to the promises they make in international climate negotiations. But the poorer countries need that money, because of the loss and damage that they experience from climate impacts, because of the urgent need to adapt, because they also need to take action to cut emissions, because, you know, they, as every country in the world have been hit by COVID economic impacts as well. But, you know, those poorer, smaller small island nations, developing nations, you know, they are, they are most affected by climate change, they are least they contribute least to the problem, and they are least able to pay for it. So, you know, there is a real need there as well as a trust issue. So, I think if, if that climate finance gap can't be closed before COP26, then, you know, the pessimism starts to rather kind of shift the shift the balance with the optimism, I think. And finally,

Alasdair:

after COP, can you describe to us how things will work after COP and what the next steps will be, assuming that everything up to that point has gone relatively well?

Gareth:

with you know, with the prevailing wind and all good hard diplomatic graft beforehand on the part of the presidency and everybody else involved and, you know, and sort of big powerful nations who are leading like the US, we can get a decent package from a Glasgow package, a Glasgow deal, that will keep one and a half degrees within reach. If that's the case, then we could, you know, we should could leave COP with real momentum into the 2020s with a sense that you know, that markets are moving in the right direction as a result of really important signals sent by political leaders that they are committed to this change. As a result of big green investment packages such as the you know, that which Biden is pursuing, such as that which many countries say they are committed to a green recovery from the pandemic, that can fund and fuel the the real action and the delivery of the real plans that should be part of that package at Glasgow. And if we see that momentum, then you know, we're in a good place heading towards COP27, which will be hosted, I think, by Egypt a year later, and that will very much be preparing for the global stocktake which is the next sort of big landmark points in in the UNF Triple C calendar, which is in 2023, which is sort of the next point of sort of trying to ratchet up climate ambition globally, a decent, robust package at Glasgow and momentum beyond it is what we're looking for. And then you know, well, we could, I could paint a rosy picture of what the future looks like but we haven't got that kind of time. But that's what we're hoping for.

Alasdair:

My thanks to Gareth Redmond King from the energy, climate and intelligence unit for his time. If you enjoyed the podcast, please do subscribe or follow us. And we'll hope to have more interesting interviews on climate topics in the very near future. Thanks for listening