COP26

In the long-awaited COP26, 197 parties have agreed to voluntarily comply with Paris Agreement’s articles in a global and shared effort to mitigate the negative impacts of Climate Change, now common and more robust knowledge. Notwithstanding, some nations prefer to ride freely, preventing the Planet to further progress on its population’s wellbeing. Some of its population oppose this attitude but the adopted strategy shows they are a minority. From Glasgow, where parties stretched extra-hours to get an agreement on art.6, my key take-aways are:

  1. Sustainability leaders are making further global commitments to quickly limit global warming by signing the Methane pledge. 103 countries representing 40% of global methane and 60% of global GDP have signed so but not the top 3 polluters, India, China, and Russia, as per UNFCCC. The pledge is a quick win on the global GHG emissions race as methane has been contributing to 30% of them. In so doing, global warming is expected to be limited by approximately 0.2ºC in 2050 and air quality improved, with subsequent health benefits such as less air related diseases or deaths. The light blue scenario in the WMO’s graphic below is more likely with the announced pledge. Cutting methane emissions demands further change on fossil fuels operations (the largest activity contributor) and society’s consumerism behaviour, pressuring especially on the diet as methane stems also from agricultural activity.
  2. The NDCs published aren’t enough. India, the third polluter as shown in the Statista graphic below with Statista data, hasn’t communicated to the UNFCCC its targets announced during COP26. Their intention of delaying to strongly commit for a greener and more sustainable economy and Planet is clear.
  3. Developing countries are consciously polluting deteriorating global society’s welfare while enriching themselves, at the expense of all citizens’ health. The last-minute change from the expected agreement on “phasing out unabated coal” to “phasing down unabated coal”, seems a concession on the developing countries’ argument that they still need to grow their economies and hence, need to burn fossil fuels and increase atmospheric GHG, albeit is now common knowledge that practice has high negative externalities. The two Asian giants claim to have inferior capacities than developed countries, yet in July 2020 India banned power equipment imports from China, on which had been relying to expand its renewable generation capacity. According to Fitch, India imports 80% of the power equipment from China. At the existent internal production capacity Fitch’s estimates that India cannot deliver Net-Zero by 2050, as needed to limit global warming to less than 2ºC. The claim and the announced commitment don’t make sense. Playing with the existing rules and applying a pure money driven short-term resolution turned out to be a nasty step for the Planet and the most vulnerable. India is exclusively looking at its own belly button not playing together for our planet, a shared effort and goal. How will the world be if led by such careless and disrespectful nations? The low tactic played is environmentally unsustainable.

“You’re supposed to be phasing out coal over the next 20 years, you just signed an agreement with us,”

John Kerry, U. S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate to Xie Zhenhua, China’s Special Envoy for Climate at COP26

We said phase down.”

Xie Zhenhua responds to John Kerry through his translator, Reuters 14th November 2021

 If we hadn’t done that we wouldn’t have an agreement,” 

John Kerry to Reuters’ reports, Reuters 14th November 2021

I am a big supporter of globalisation and see both positive and negative aspects of the equation. Continuing with globalisation, enables best-practices to be shared more openly and the world can progress in scientific, business, educational and lifestyle sustainable practices. Not allowing so isn’t learning from history. We’re living in a different era with a global problem not faced previously with current intensity. If globalisation hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t have the current common knowledge on climate change causes and impact.

Will COP26 accelerate the path to Net-Zero?

The Emissions Gap Report, published this week by UNEP, supports IPCC AR6 and the UNFCCC’s NDC Synthesis Report with regard to the urgency needed to mitigate and adapt to Climate Change.

The efforts some countries expect to make, recently communicated through the updated NDCs are welcome. The World has become #onestepgreener. Yet, much more is needed as map 1 created by EGR team illustrates. Its efforts combined with corporate pledges only reduce greenhouse gases emissions by 7.5% (EGR, 2021).

effect of latest NDCs on GHG emissions by 2030 vs previous NDCs.
Map 1 – latest NDCs impact on global GHG emissions level by 2030 compared to previous NDCs
Source: Emissions Gap Report: The heat is on

To limit Global warming to 1.5ºC, with a 66% probability, a reduction of 55% from pre-industrial levels needs to be met by 2100, so atmospheric carbon concentration is at the 430 ppm maximum level. Different scientific sources inform the current carbon budget is over 410 ppm. Its increase rate has changed between 2.6% and 1% annually, according to World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) data. If we keep releasing at these rates, the carbon budget will be reached soon. In 2024 and 2025 respectively, as my calculations show in the graphic below, using WMO data. Given the current NDCs and pledges, a 66% probability of limiting global warming to 1.5ºC, by 2100 seems a too optimistic scenario. The EGR informs that with current emissions rate trend, the Planet will have warmed 2.7 ºC by the end of the century.

historic atmospheric CO2 concentration in ppm, WMO data.
Graph 1: Reaching Carbon Budget (own elaboration with WMO data)

Emissions trading schemes, a big topic to agree on during COP26, have been contributing to limit atmospheric emissions in some sectors. As companies operating in those sectors are penalised for the GHG emissions they directly generate above the set threshold, they had to decide on its optimisation. Choosing the right scenario implies a thorough process, where sustainability needs to be at the centre of the decision making. Let me remind you that sustainability is a broad concept based on three pillars; environment, social and governance. A concept not always properly used, as greenwashing cases have shown.

We all inhabit this Planet. We all profit for the care we take of it. Like the community who takes care of its common property, the more stakeholders look after it, following the set standards, the better the outcome. When it’s a voluntary work, there will be free riders who will not contribute but will benefit from others’ collaboration. When collaboration is mandatory, the collaboration’s output will reach a higher level. Very likely welfare gains will also be higher. If this behaviour is scaled to a global level, with each neighbour being each country, mandatory global emissions trading scheme could be the most beneficial for the sustainability of our Planet.

Given that not all the parties have updated their NDCs and only 60% of G20 countries have set Net-Zero targets, how can COP26 succeed in managing the global GHG emissions effectively? Isn’t the world risking for the own backyard mindset to prevail over the protected forest one? Would setting national emissions trading schemes delay the Net-Zero goal as countries spend their resources on deploying so instead of allocating to deploy a global scheme? Getting countries to update their NDCs in a Pandemic scenario has been limited by the short-term political perspective. The EGR mentions that only 2,6% of public budget spent during the Pandemic were on activities that potentially reduce GHG emissions. This shows sustainability’s environmental pillar hasn’t been a core investment criterion. The world wasn’t prepared for the black swan and diplomacy failed to influence properly and seize the opportunity to change for good and speed up decarbonisation.

I agree with the EGR – The heat is On. Acting globally instead of individually, leads to efficiencies on capital allocation. When managing emissions with a global system, most likely corporate admin costs would be reduced. Capital savings could then be used to further decarbonise organisations’ activities. It also shows we are #togetherforourplanet.