COP26: Everything you and your clients should know from Week 2

As COP26 concludes in Glasgow, MSQ Sustain have been working with clients at the event every step of the way. The agency’s Senior Strategist Will Railton wraps up the event and analyses all the major talking points from the Conference’s second half, picking out 6 key topics you and your clients need to be mindful of going forward.

While much of the world’s attention in the first week of the UN summit was on the presence of leaders and big announcements on saving forests, phasing out coal, cutting methane and stopping fossil fuel finance, there were also negotiations between countries going on at the same time. Much of the hard work happens in week 2 as political negotiations finalise parts of the Paris Agreement to make it operational and effective. 

The key question is how countries will close the gap between the action to cut emissions they have pledged and what is needed to avert the most dramatic effects of global heating.

So what are the 6 big topics in week 2?

Negotiators in Glasgow are working to come to an agreement as the conference enters its final day. This is critical as language can be softened on important matters from subsidising fossil fuels and phasing out coal. One key area is how quickly countries will renegotiate as the climate crisis reaches tipping points and landmark pledges. The idea of course is that countries revise and accelerate actions to avert and mitigate against climate change. It may be best to think about this COP as the start of a long process where action and promises double in their impact and halve their time span.

Although we do not know the exact result of this COP we can look at what the last week brought us… 

1. Ocean Action Day

Our sea floor is our greatest store of carbon and vital ecosystems like coral reefs, mangroves, seagrasses and kelp forests are critical to keeping 1.5C alive. Many countries have now joined the 30×30 pledge this COP (martine protection for 30% of the global ocean by 2030) but alongside this our shipping and fishing industries need to radically change. Bottom-trawling emits as much CO2 as the whole of the aviation industry yet the fishing industry often doesn’t feature in these negotiations.

The Ocean for Climate Declaration is a call to governments and non-state actors to scale up ocean-based climate solutions and action. As one example, Western Indian Ocean states and partners including International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) have launched the Great Blue Wall initiative to establish a network of marine and coastal conserved areas to benefit biodiversity and local livelihoods, empowering communities to become stewards of the ocean. Meanwhile, as oceans sequester a quarter of the world’s CO2 emissions, ‘blue carbon’ is now an increasing shortcut to accelerating investment in marine protection. 

At this COP fishing and shipping seem to have been bypassed but efforts to protect zoned marine life are accelerating. 

2. Transport

We need a massive investment in zero carbon public transport but the headline from transport day at COP26 is that 24 countries and a group of car manufacturers have committed to selling only zero-emissions vehicles by 2040 or earlier. Unfortunately, China, USA and Germany all declined to sign. But the commitment by others is a positive step. Transport accounts for a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions so the end of fossil-fueled cars needs to happen in the next 10 years to avoid dangerous global heating thresholds. 

Alongside such commitments, we must look at how we travel holistically as it affects the quality of our lives irrespective of climate change and air pollution. Walking, cycling and green mass transit is a major part of a brighter future in cities. The benefits range from exercise, mental health and even social justice. To learn more I would recommend following C40 (a client of ours) a collective of city mayors fighting for sustainable and revitalised cities through equitable green investment.

Lastly, I want to mention commercial flying. We are likely 10 years away from electric commercial flights in the UK and roughly 20 years away from hydrogen long haul flights. Today, we need to fly a lot less, more slowly and at much shorter distances . Of course, putting the brakes on flying must coincide with improving our train network so that it is an easy option for consumers to go by train rather than plane. 

3. Gender

One of the climate summit’s primary themes on Tuesday was gender — a day for women’s rights advocates and policymakers to negotiate gender-responsive climate action that protects and empowers women and girls. Climate change can exacerbate existing structural gender inequalities. Women are more exposed to economic instability, displacement and sexual violence said to increase under severe climate crisis. 

There are some major advocates at COP26 calling for climate change education and female entrepreneurship to offset gender inequality. These advocates are represented by the United Nation Girls Initiative and Plan International, among others. However, in reviewing nationally determined contributions (NDCS) at COP only Cambodia and the United Kingdom recognize girls’ education, and zero include girls’ education as part of their national climate strategies. More can and must be done. 

4. Nature Based Solutions

Preventing the loss of carbon stocks in Earth’s ecosystems is critical to address the climate and biodiversity crises. As leaders debate policy options at COP, a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) highlights the need for nature-based solutions – locally appropriate actions that address climate change and provide human well-being and biodiversity benefits by protecting, sustainably managing and restoring ecosystems. With careful planning and investment, nature-based solutions can cut net emissions by up to 18 gigatons of carbon dioxide per year by 2050. So as we decarbonise industry we can draw down carbon from the atmosphere too. Think of this as draining the pool of accumulated emissions while turning off the tap too. And that is why 90% of updated National Determined Contributions included nature-based solutions. 

5. Nature Tech

‘Nature Tech’ is the technology which can be used to enable, scale-up and build trust in nature-based solutions and it’s been a hot topic this week.

Here are some notable examples of Nature Tech at COP 

  • American Forests has created a searchable online Tree Equity Score to show where tree planting and protection is most needed in the US.
  • The Nature-Based Solutions Policy Tracker is the first to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to identify legislation and investment plans for NBS, and to assess their effectiveness. 
  • Chloris geospatial (@ChlorisGeo) uses satellite data and artificial intelligence to help companies invest in nature-based solutions.
  • Soilify that monitors the soil carbon change using high resolution satellite data and machine learning.

6. The Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance 

The U.K. won’t join an alliance of countries fixing a date to phase out oil and gas production, in a move that calls into question the COP26 host nation’s climate leadership. The Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance is being spearheaded by the governments of Denmark and Costa Rica. To join the alliance as “core members,” countries must commit to ending new concessions, licensing or leasing rounds for oil and gas exploration and extraction. They also must target a date for ending oil and gas production and exploration that is aligned “with the objectives of the Paris Agreement.” Hopefully by next year many more countries will have joined, including the UK. 

…And a few final highlights

The People’s Summit

The People’s summit is a counter summit to what is happening in the large conference halls at Glasgow. They are nearby, loud but not physically present at COP26 negotiations. However, they do ask some fundamental questions; how do you equitably distribute green energy, what does a carbon budget mean between rich and poor countries, and how do you balance survival and development? None of us should be spectators to the counter-narratives around COP26 and indeed although this is all our fight, the climate crisis is happening now and it is extremely unevenly distributed. In this way, the voices of those outside of this grand conference should be heard too. To learn more click here

On another note, two voices that got their point across strongly this week:

The Foreign Minister from Tuvalu in the South Pacific delivered his speech to COP26  from the sea to illustrate the crisis they face with rising sea levels.

Barack Obama hit the headlines too, providing some hope with the words ‘keeping 1.5C alive will be hard. Humanity has done hard things before.

Listen to the words of the ex-president here

Will Railton is a Senior Strategist at MSQ Sustain. Check out his COP26 week 1 round-up here.