COP26 Week One: Hopeful Start

By Claire Barraclough, specialist in sustainability and corporate communications.

What a week. It was hard not to be moved by the opening of COP26. We heard from world leaders about the scale of the climate emergency and how it is impacting the most vulnerable. I defy anyone not to be moved by Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados at the World Leaders Summit. If you missed her speec you can find it here.

From Glasgow, one of the birthplaces of industry, Sir David Attenborough spoke about the need for a sustainable revolution. He focused on reducing the carbon number, innovation and working together against instability and inequality. HRH Prince of Wales demonstrated his engagement with the private sector and spoke about how CEOs are working across global sectors to make the transition to Net Zero aligned behind a strategy to deliver real action.

In week one we seemed to bounce between the optimism of keeping 1.5 alive and the reality of where we are falling short:

Some significant wins:

The UK as a finance climate leader: Listed UK firms will have to produce regular transition plans for how they will reach Net Zero emissions by 2050 overseen by the FCA. This includes financial institutions and oil and gas companies. Over half of the UK’s largest businesses have committed to eliminate their contribution to carbon emissions by 2050, representing a total market capital of over £1.2 trillion. Nigel Topping, UN High Level Climate Champion for COP26, said: “The mobilization of so many of the FTSE100 behind our common goal to deliver the promise of the Paris Agreement is further proof that the global economy is irreversibly aligning to keep 1.5C alive. By joining Race to Zero, these leading companies are stepping up to drive the innovation needed and show that net zero is both technologically possible and economically attractive.”

Greening the economy: The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net-Zero (GFANZ), launched in April with an aim of transitioning the global financial sector to net-zero by 2050, now represents more than $130trn in assets under management. This is 70% of the estimated $100 trillion of finance needed for net zero over the next three decades. As announced by President Joe Biden the First Movers Coalition goes to the root cause of driving demand for green products and procurement backed by major corporates. It will work across eight key sectors: steel, cement, aluminium, chemicals, shipping, aviation, trucking and direct air capture.

Accountability: recognition that COP26 needs to deliver on the commitments. The launch of a new body to oversee global sustainability standards. This will be critical to delivery and implementation from Glasgow.

Deforestation:More than 100 world leaders have promised to end and reverse deforestation by 2030 with £14bn of public and private funds.

India announces 2070 net zero pledge:While the timeframe of India’s net zero target has been criticised this is an important economy and high-emitter to have on the road to Net zero.

Methane: EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and US President Joe Biden announced a partnership to cut emissions of methane by 2030. With methane currently responsible for a third of current warming from human activities, the Global Methane Pledge aims to limit methane emissions by 30% compared to 2020 levels. More than 100 countries pledged to significantly cut their methane emissions.

These wins are set against criticism of China and Russia for missing the COP26 summit. The major sponsors of the conference have also been challenged on their green credibility. There is the unanswered question of fossil fuels. We heard that Coal is no longer king. More than 20 countries and financial institutions will halt all financing for fossil fuel development overseas and divert the spending to green energy instead from next year.

Countries involved include the US, UK, Denmark and some developing countries, including Costa Rica, as well as The European Investment Bank. But China, the US and Australia have not signed up to the agreement. All eyes are on the banks to see if they follow through to assign coal to the history books.

As we close out the first week I think we can be more hopeful than when we started. Today COP is dedicated to the voice of future generations. This is the generation that will decide if this COP has delivered. We are seeing more action and ambition. Accountability must follow to deliver on the intent.

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