3 key actions to watch for at COP26 as the world navigates net zero
“Part diplomacy, part trade show, part circus.”
That’s how I recently heard the UN Climate Change Conference taking place right now in Glasgow, Scotland described.
The conference has been billed as many things by world leaders and those following debates around climate change (for a quick refresher on all things COP26, check out our COP26: What you need to know article).
From our planet’s “last, best chance” to avoid catastrophic effects of climate to being “one minute to midnight” from those effects, the urgency for actions appears to have been impressed upon those attending the conference—at least, in their speeches and prepared remarks.
But, what does success for the Paris Agreement and its pledge to limit global warming to well below 2° Celsius—and the resulting global of effort of “net zero” emissions by 2050 to achieve this—look like at COP26? Hopefully, a whole lot more diplomacy and a lot less circus…
For me, I’m watching for three key actions to take place for COP26 to be a success:
Commitments to ending coal-fired generation of electricity
A global agreement on the use of carbon offsets and carbon market standards
Concrete action on funding decarbonization and mitigation around the world
Let's get into it.
COP26 must be the death of coal
Prior to the start of the conference, COP26 President Alok Sharma stated the following: “Glasgow must be the COP that consigns coal to history.”
He’s right. It simply must happen.
In an age where urgent decarbonization is need, the generation of electricity from coal-fired power plants is simply unacceptable.
Coal is responsible for 30% of global emissions and significantly impacts air quality—leading to eight million premature deaths around the world every year.
World leaders need not look any further than Ontario for a model on how to achieve a coal phase-out. Ontario successfully phased out the use of coal to generate electricity by relying largely on nuclear power. Ontario operates an electricity grid that is more than 90% comprised of non-emitting sources with nuclear providing the lion’s share of that generation at 60%.
If we’re going to get serious about consigning the use of coal to the history books at COP26, nuclear must be part of the solution—and there’s a model to follow here in Ontario.
Global agreement on carbon markets
Article 6 of the Paris Agreement lays out a framework for the use of “carbon markets” by countries that have signed on to the agreement (we’ll soon have an explainer post for carbon offsets and carbon markets, so stay tuned).
Interest in the use of carbon offsets and carbon markets has grown significantly on an annual basis as countries and businesses seek ways to demonstrate progress on environmental action. Carbon offsets, or “credits” as they’re often referred to, at a basic level are one ton of carbon dioxide (or an equivalent, e.g., methane) that has been avoided or sequestered due to investment in action that otherwise would not have taken place. These “credits” are then purchased on marketplaces and then used to count toward pledges for carbon neutrality.
The problem: these markets, to date, have been prone to lacking oversight, double counting, low-quality projects, uncertainty and more.
For carbon markets to fully realize their potential, COP26 must establish stringent and binding rules for the use of carbon offsets and carbon markets around the world.
Funding decarbonization and mitigation around the world
Many of the countries that are set to face the worst effects of climate change are not significant contributors to current levels of emissions.
In recognition of this reality, 12 years ago wealthier nations (those most responsible for climate change) pledged to fund $100 billion worth of action to support decarbonization and clean energy transitions as well as climate mitigation actions in less wealthy nations on annual basis.
In the years since that pledge, not once has it been met. If we’re to tackle a problem with a global scope (like climate change!), then we need to be global in our efforts.
Recent announcements at COP26, liked pledges from the United States and the United Kingdom to fund $8.5 billion to support South Africa’s clean energy transition, are positive steps. But we’re a long way away from the level of support needed to support those who are set to face the worst effects of climate change.
Taken together, significant action on these three fronts would make for a successful COP26 in principle. Apologies in advance for the analogy—I've got the World Series on my mind—but much like baseball, while a good swing is important, so is your follow through.
Chad Richards is the Director of the Net Zero Partnerships program.