The green revolution continues despite COP26 compromise

COP26 demonstrated that hitting emissions targets needed to limit global warming will be tough. Fossil-fuels will be with us for many years, but green themes have received a further boost.

| 6 min read

The main conclusion from the United Nation’s COP26 climate-change conference is that the world intends to extract and burn a lot of fossil fuel over the balance of this decade. Despite many attempts to persuade leading countries to cut back more severely on the use of coal, oil and gas, the combined impact of all the national plans is for the world to be producing more carbon dioxide in 2030 than it did in 2010.

The scientific advisers and green campaigners at the conference pressed for the leading countries to cut their output of carbon dioxide by 45% on 2010 levels by 2030 to keep to the temperature limits laid down in the original Paris Treaty of around 1.5 degrees. Instead, on these forecasts there is likely to be more than a 2-degree increase in global temperatures.

  • 1.5 Warming targeted by the Paris Agreement (degrees celsius))

COP26 claims some victories in its battle against greenhouse gases. In total, 105 countries pledged to cut their methane output by 30% on 2020 levels by the end of this decade. The rulebook on how to calculate and implement national plans was finally agreed. Now, 90% of all countries are pledged to achieve “net zero” by some date in the future. The conference, after much haggling, agreed to the “phase down of unabated coal”. A further 130 countries, including those with large areas of forest, agreed to end deforestation – a move aimed at encouraging more trees to soak up excess carbon dioxide.

Green agenda muddling through

The aim of the Glasgow conference was to follow up on the Paris Agreement. The conference also sought to harness the private sector, to raise large additional sums to help pay for the transition and adaptation in lower-income countries, and to encourage technological developments that could make the task easier. Some new pledges of financial help were made – and more work is promised to try to deliver the $100bn a year that has long been the aim. The President of COP26, Alok Sharma, summed it up by saying the goal of keeping to just 1.5 degrees of warming was still alive, but the pulse is weak.

The world’s five largest carbon creators in 2019 were China, the US, the European Union (EU), India and Russia. The US and the EU co-operated at COP26 with revised plans for cutting their emissions. China, India and Russia reserved their right to continue to use large quantities of coal, oil and gas.

The world is set to miss its targets

As China currently accounts for more than 30% of the world total output of carbon dioxide, Chinese insistence on carrying on increasing its output makes achieving the 2030 targets extremely difficult. The announcement of co-operation over climate change between China and the US, the two largest carbon dioxide producers, was hailed by some as an important development.

This mirrored the Agreement in Principle which John Kerry, Joe Biden’s Climate Envoy, had negotiated with Xie Zhenhua, President Xi’s representative, back in April. The Agreement talks about reducing methane, cutting coal and protecting forests. It does not, however, create a detailed plan to reduce these emissions and leaves it up to each country’s national plan. These national plans are included by the UN in its forecast that the world is set to miss its targets.

Developing nations need substantial support

There was considerable attention given to the needs of developing countries. It was recognised that some countries need to spend significant sums on flood defences, on water storage against periods of low rainfall, and on precautions against fire in periods of high temperature. This is in addition to money they need so they can join the developed nations in switching technology away from fossil fuels. There was no final agreed budget with enforcement of pledges, but various governments, private-sector banks and global institutions promised to increase their grants, loans and subsidised finance for these works. The conference hopes that the world will, at last, hit the $100bn a year target set out at Paris next year – and will go on to increase the payments above that as the decade advances.

There were various agreements of groups of countries to work together around specific themes and problems. There will be more work to advance the use of hydrogen, to improve and spread electric vehicles, to change agricultural practises, to cut methane, to promote green finance, to develop acceptable fuels for aviation and to reform shipping. There will be plenty of money seeking good investments in new technologies and in transition.

The developing world does not think the large sums promised will be enough.

It is also clear that the developing world does not think the large sums promised to help them will be enough – or will all materialise – so these countries will continue to need rising amounts of fossil fuel energy to power their growth, led by China. This makes the task for western companies planning their own net-zero journey more difficult. Timing is everything, and there will be good cashflows from fossil fuel work for some time to come.

The continuing commitment of the EU, the US and other leading advanced countries to this cause means there will be much more work on greening economies, with the conference providing a further stimulus to a range of new technologies and products in industry, transport, farming, heating and much else. COP26 has sought to speed-up the agenda and to put in place more work and further reviews to keep up the pressure for transition.

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The green revolution continues despite COP26 compromise

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