The COP26 negotiations have entered their final phase.
Ministers and diplomats will now work around the clock to find a deal that can credibly “keep 1.5 ° C alive.” The goal – as is so often the case with high-stakes diplomacy – is a deal that no one likes, but that everyone can live with. The problem is, an unambitious deal could very well turn out to be one that literally billions of people cannot live with.
Over the next 48 hours, negotiations will intensify further as red lines are revealed, angry words exchanged and an attempt to identify “landing zones” that could provide a viable compromise.
The usual suspects will try to block progress and dilute the final deal. For that, read two big camps: China, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and others who oppose anything they fear restricting development or imposing what they see as demands of transparency threatening sovereignty; and the treasures of industrialized nations myopically opposing anguished calls for an increase in the flow of climate finance and adaptation finance to the developing world that would be both morally just and serve to build resilience and security. of each one.
The ghost of the party – a certain often racist Florida-based social media addict and political party he hijacked – casts a shadow over everything, undermining confidence that the U.S. political system can ever deliver on Net Zero’s ambitious promises by Joe Biden.
The negotiations remain delicately balanced and everything could still crumble in a crescendo of geopolitical enmity. But the general feeling now is that an ambitious deal can be reached.
Boris Johnson is said to be hitting the world’s leading WhatsApp group to urge him to seize a historic opportunity. Negotiators believe the form of an agreement is starting to take shape. The “piped music” in the room where this is happening would be considerably more upbeat than is typical for the final days of a COP summit. The hope is that the major new US-China deal announced last night can trigger breakthroughs overnight. More ambitious proposals on climate finance would quickly unlock progress on several other fronts – finance is the “solvent”, as the Prime Minister said yesterday afternoon.
Any final deal is likely to represent a significant step forward from the Paris Agreement – a glue of this historic deal that provides a solid foundation for further action. As Johnson put it in his inimitable style, Glasgow could mark “the beginning of the end of man-made climate change” – an achievement that would be “the greatest gift we can give to our children and grandchildren and to generations to come. to be born “.
But even if the current draft text were kept in its entirety, it still would not be as ambitious as it should be given the scale of the climate crisis we are all facing.
The world will leave Glasgow on track for 2.4C warming, assuming governments do what they promised – an improvement over projections a year ago, but still far from the Paris promise of “well below 2 ° C”, not to mention 1.5 ° C. The plaster will hopefully be provided by a largely voluntary framework to implore nations to step up their decarbonization plans at some point in the not too distant future. If you are generous, 1.5 ° C may come out of the trading rooms alive, but it will be carried on a stretcher.
It will also be a small miracle if references to phasing out coal and fossil fuel subsidies make it through the merchant phase of the negotiations, providing additional cover for the many governments and businesses who wish to continue investing in fossil fuel infrastructure that quickly become fixed assets if the objectives of the Paris Agreement are met.
Where then are the reasons for optimism? The answer can be found, in part, in a Tesco delivery van.
Yesterday the supermarket celebrated Transport Day at COP26 by revealing that Glasgow has become the first city in the UK to switch its entire delivery fleet to electric vans. The intention is that by 2028, the company’s entire home delivery fleet will be fully zero-emissions.
The move came on the same day that a major coalition of governments and automakers signed a commitment setting targets to end the sale of internal combustion engines. Companies and countries that have opposed risk clinging to dirty old technology that no one wants anymore. A Bloomberg New Energy Finance analysis today reported that nearly a fifth of all passenger vehicle sales in 2020 were in countries that now have an internal combustion engine phase-out date (ICE ), up from just five percent in 2019. Almost a third of the global passenger car market is covered by manufacturers’ commitments to switch to electric vehicles. Critical mass has been reached.
Elsewhere, the UK government has announced that all heavy goods vehicles will need to be zero-emission from 2040, the evocatively-named Clydebank statement unveiled plans for new green shipping lanes, and new contracts were signed to boost market demand for low carbon aviation fuels.
Like the Glasgow Draft Negotiating Texts, all of these various initiatives and the hundreds more that have been launched in recent weeks are still undernourished and lack the scale and scope to do so. quickly move the world onto a 1.5C compatible decarbonation path.
But they also represent real and rapid changes in the real economy which, in turn, will catalyze further and potentially exponential changes. It is the march of the S-curves. The acceleration of the ambition loop. And that sends us back to those trading rooms. Because much of this action – falling clean tech costs, surging green investment, growing public support – has been aided by the Paris Agreement and the signal it sent to markets around the world. integer that the net zero transition was both inevitable and desirable.
Some of the diplomatic teams in Glasgow will now seek to remove any mention of phasing out fossil fuel subsidies and respond to calls to move beyond hydrocarbons. But meanwhile, a fleet of supermarket delivery vans are already delivering what the coalition of high-ambition countries want to see: real-world changes that improve the lives of people and communities, boost economies and, most importantly, wipe out the demand for fossil fuels.
If governments and businesses do even half of what they said they would do over the next decade, large parts of fossil fuel infrastructure will become economically unsustainable and emissions will begin. to lower. Blockers and latecomers will remain poorly exposed, in every sense of the word. From there, a virtuous and accelerated cycle is possible which results in a growing adoption of clean technologies and the end of the era of fossil fuels.
While diplomats can strike an ambitious deal in Glasgow, a deal that mobilizes increased levels of climate finance and adaptation finance and makes it clear that national climate action plans will soon be strengthened in pursuit of 1, 5 ° C and zero net emissions, then the summit will have kept its promises. goals. Like the Paris Agreement, it will be an agreement where, if you read between the lines, it becomes clearer than ever that betting on polluting business models is a losing bet.
The world might not get what they want from Glasgow, but they can just get what they need.
This article was first published as part of BusinessGreen’s Overnight Briefing.