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Week 1 at COP26 – news or noise?

The United Nations has held the “Conference of the Parties,” or COP, for almost three decades, including the landmark 2015 Paris climate summit. This year is the 26th meeting. In that time, urgency has ramped up over greenhouse gas emissions, global warming and human-caused climate change.

Some key statistics driving the conversations include:

  • Earth has already warmed about 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 1800s according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Current projections from a wide range of climate model simulations show that Earth’s average temperature could be between 2 and nearly 10 degrees warmer in the year 2100 than it is now.
  • Based on a NOAA analysis, the 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 2005, with seven of the 10 since 2014.
  • Scientists say warming is fuelling sea level rise, drought, heat waves, more intense heavy rainfall, a record number of billion-dollar disasters and a host of other wide-reaching impacts.

The UN and other global bodies are imploring nations to take strong action to reduce emissions, with the hopes of mitigating the worst effects.

“Our addiction to fossil fuels is pushing humanity to the brink,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on the first day of the summit. “It’s time to say: enough.”

At the end of Week 1, here’s a wrap up of some of the biggest announcements that emerged from COP26 during the last few days:

1. Over 40 countries pledged to phase out coal power

More than 40 countries, including some of the world’s most coal-reliant nations such as Canada, Ukraine, Indonesia, and Vietnam, committed to phasing out coal power to reduce national carbon emissions.

The plan is that larger economies will gradually end their use of coal-powered electricity in the 2030s, and smaller economies aim to do so in the 2040s

Does it matter? Burning coal, natural gas and oil for electricity and heat is the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

2. Countries pledge to stop funding overseas fossil fuels

The US and 20 other countries announced a new fossil fuel-curbing strategy at the conference’s “energy day” on November 4. Starting next year, participating countries plan to stop financing overseas fossil fuel projects and reallocate nearly $18 billion in spending toward clean energy, although this is a non-binding agreement.

Does it matter? Direct finance and public finance toward energy in developing countries around the world has to be in the clean and green area.

3. Pledge to end deforestation by 2030

The Global Forest Finance Pledge has been signed to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030 by 110 countries representing 85% of Earth’s forests. The Pledge is supported by US$12bn of public and private finance.

Does it matter? The world’s forests are significant carbon sinks and valuable source of biodiversity. Halting deforestation can address climate change, species extinction and food insecurity. Brazil is one of the most important countries to sign on to this deal, being home to the Amazon rainforest.

4. The Global Methane Pledge

The pledge is a commitment to cut methane emissions 30 per cent by 2030 led by the US and EU and signed on to by almost 100 countries, though Australia, India, China, and Russia were notably absent.

Does it matter? Methane is responsible for 30 per cent of climate change observed to date and has a global warming potential 28 times larger than carbon dioxide over a 100 year period. Methane emissions continue to grow globally, and their reduction is critical to curbing the worst impacts of climate change. Scientists predict that by cutting methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030, the world can avoid 0.3 degrees Celsius of warming by 2040.

5. Countries and funders pledge $1.7 billion to Indigenous peoples

A commitment to provide financing for Indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) providing $1.7 billion from 2021–2025 in recognition of the central role IPLCs play in protecting key forests and ecosystems.

Does it matter? Indigenous people make up 5 per cent of the world’s population yet protect 80 per cent of the world’s biodiversity. Securing land rights and tenure is central to ensuring IPLCs continued leadership in ecosystem management and protection. Governments and funders, including the Ford Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Bezos Earth Fund, the Rainforest Trust, and more, will start releasing the $1.7 billion this year, continuing on to 2025.

6. US rejoins 1.5 coalition

The US rejoined the High Ambition Coalition (HAC) on November 2, reaffirming the world’s second largest emitters’ commitment to the Paris agreement and keeping the earth’s temperature rise within the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit.

Does it matter? The decision by the world’s biggest economy and second biggest emitter, after China, to return to the HAC group of countries marks a significant boost to attempts to focus the summit on limiting temperature rises to 1.5 C, the tougher of the two goals of the Paris agreement.

7. New body to oversee global sustainability disclosure standards

There will be a consolidation of sustainability disclosure standards through the formation of a new International Sustainability Standards Board to develop a global baseline for sustainability disclosure.

Does it matter? This will provide increased consistency and comparability between company disclosures allowing financial markets to direct capital to more resilient and sustainable companies.

8. $130 trillion global finance pledge

The pledge is a commitment to provide US$130 trillion in global capital that aligns to the Paris Agreement, through the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero.

Does it matter? This figure, which has grown from US$5trillion at the beginning of the COP26 Presidency, represents the commitment of 450 financial firms across 45 countries to a science-based transition to net zero.

9. The Global Energy Alliance launches $10.5 billion fund for emerging economies

The Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet (GEAPP) pledged $10.5 billion toward helping emerging economies adapt from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Does it matter? The alliance, formed of philanthropic organisations, governments, and development finance institutions, aims to raise $100 billion in total to provide 1 billion people with renewable power, prevent 4 billion tons of carbon emissions, and drive economic growth.

10. India announces a new net zero target

The prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, used the opportunity to announce his country’s pledge of reaching net zero emissions by 2070.

Does it matter? India is home to 17 per cent of the planet’s population and is the world’s third largest emitter of global warming gases.

11. Jeff Bezos pledges $2 billion to the environment

The founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, addressed the COP26 conference on November 2 and announced a $2 billion pledge toward restoring nature and improving food systems.

12. Nigeria announces commitment to cut emissions to net zero by 2060

Nigeria’s President announced that Africa’s most populous country has developed an energy transition plan and roadmap to cut the country’s emissions to net zero by 2060.

Does it matter? Nigeria is Africa’s largest producer of crude oil and earlier in 2021, Buhari said the country will need up to $400 billion to meet its net zero emissions goals.

13. UK’s financial hub and big businesses told to reach net zero by Treasury

By 2023, the UK’s biggest firms will need to submit public plans on how they plan to achieve emissions targets — in line with the UK’s nationwide target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050.

Does it matter? Sunak’s announcement for the UK correlates with a wider net zero pledge made by 450 financial institutions including banks and investment funds, from 45 different countries, at the summit.

14. Pledges for smallholder farmers reach nearly $1 billion

The CGIAR global research partnership received a $575 million pledge to help farmers in low-income nations adapt to climate change and prevent hunger and poverty.

Does it matter? There are 500 million smallholder farmers and livestock keepers in low-income countries—the majority of whom are women—facing a rising tide of climate threats that impede their ability to support their families and provide food for billions of consumers.

15. Finlands capital city wont serve meat anymore

Officials in Helsinki, the capital of Finland, announced that meat will no longer be an option at city functions where food is served, in an effort to lessen the city’s carbon footprint. Vegetarian dishes and sustainable local fish will be served instead.

Does it matter? This is part of a larger effort which aims to reduce the climate impact of food and reduce the amount of natural resources used by the city.

So, news or noise?

While the announcements so far are a step in the right direction, they are not yet enough to save our planet from disastrous levels of warming — making this week’s continued discussions key to an outcome that could actually make a real difference.


Dr Kaushik Sridhar is an experienced and purpose-driven sustainability leader. In 2020, he was named among the “40 Under 40 Influential Asian-Australians”, and also ranked #8 in Assent Compliance’s Top 100 Global Corporate Social Responsibility Leaders.


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