Two weeks of major international climate negotiations have started in Glasgow as the talks, known as COP26, were ‘soft launched’ over the weekend.
The Glasgow talks are the most important international meeting on climate change since the negotiation of the Paris Agreement in 2015. It represents a key waymarker for global action, with countries expected to announce new commitments for reducing emissions by 2030 and beyond.
A recent report of the UN Environment Program found that there remains a significant “emissions gap” between national pledges and what is needed to keep warming to within 1.5 degrees, with the world currently on track for 2.7 degrees of warming.
The first stop for many of the world’s major emitters was the G20 meeting in Rome, where leaders met to discuss cooperation on a range of issues, including climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic.
While there had been a strong push, particularly from European members of the group, to agree to a phase-out of fossil fuel use within an agreed time frame, this was resisted by countries including Australia, China and India – whose governments each see as the ongoing use of coal in particular as central to future economic prosperity – as flawed as that view may be.
The group did manage to agree to cease providing international funding for “unabated” coal fired generation and re-iterated support for the Paris Agreement goal of reaching net zero emissions by mid-century.
“We commit to mobilise international public and private finance to support green, inclusive and sustainable energy development and we will put an end to the provision of international public finance for new unabated coal power generation abroad by the end of 2021,” the G20 communique says.
While the communique falls short of the level of commitments sought by G20 hosts Italy, and COP26 hosts the United Kingdom, it highlights a major shift in attitudes towards the future of fossil fuels amongst some of the world’s largest economies.
But with countries like Australia remaining blockers, it does not bode well for the prospects of an ambitious set of commitments being struck at the COP26 talks.
During the G20 meeting, it was evident that Australia’s international standing remains deeply damaged by the Morrison government’s handling of the sudden cancellation of the deal to purchase submarines from France – with French president Emmanuel Macron straight up accusing Morrison of lying about the deal – as well as its delivery of a lacklustre plan to reach zero net emissions by 2050.
Australia’s status as a global outlier was made very clear in Rome, with Morrison largely isolated throughout the talks, and this is likely to continue into the COP26 negotiations in Glasgow.
Meanwhile, in Glasgow
Sunday saw the official “opening ceremony” of COP26 at Glasgow, with speeches from the UK’s appointed president of the conference, Alok Sharma, the executive secretary of the UNFCCC, Patricia Espinosa and chair of the IPCC, Dr Hoesung Lee.
It was a relatively low-key affair, with the talks proper kicking off on Monday (UK time), but it was used to underscore the expectations.
“We know that this COP, COP26, is our last best hope to keep 1.5° in reach,” Sharma said. “And I know that we have an unprecedented negotiations agenda ahead of us. But I believe this international system can deliver. It must deliver.
“Together, we can seize the enormous opportunities for green growth, for good green jobs, for cheaper, cleaner power. But we need to hit the ground running to develop the solutions that we need. And that work, my friends, starts today.”
Espinosa said that there was a clear choice in front of world leaders.
“We either choose to achieve rapid and large-scale reductions of emissions to keep the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C – or we accept that humanity faces a bleak future on this planet,” Espinosa said.
“We either choose to boost adaptation efforts to deal with current extreme weather disasters and build resilience to address future impacts — or we accept that more people will die, more families will suffer, and more economic harm will follow.”
“We either choose to recognise that business as usual isn’t worth the devastating price we’re paying and make the necessary transition to a more sustainable future — or we accept that we’re investing in our own extinction.”
First Nations Peoples have their voice
The opening also included a powerful statement from New Zealand activist India Logan-Riley, speaking on behalf of First Nations Peoples, who spoke about the impacts of climate change already being felt around the world – including how smoke from Australia’s 2019-20 ‘black summer’ bushfires impacted the health of people in New Zealand.
“In that moment, our health was bound to the struggle of the land and people of another country. In the impacts of climate change, our fates are intertwined,” Logan-Riley said.
Negotiators broke out into their respective negotiating streams to settle on agenda for the next couple of weeks.
There has already been some controversy around the management of the talks, with organisers attempting to “cap” the number of delegates that could go into the conference “Blue Zone” – where the main negotiations are held and is an area officially controlled by the United Nations for the length of the talks.
The attendance limits have been introduced to manage Covid-19 protocols, but there are concerns that it would prevent the full participation of civil society delegates.
China pledges a terawatt of renewables, but falls short
China outlined a proposal to boost its renewable energy capacity by 1.2 Terawatts by 2030 – about 15 times the total capacity of Australia’s grid – which is nearly double previous commitments and more than double its current capacity of 535GW.
But the plan – part of its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) – was not well received by campaigners who had expected more, as it represents little more than what China outlined at the Climate Action Summit hosted in the UK last December.
Outside the talks
World leaders, activists, celebrities and diplomats alike are all currently descending on Glasgow ahead of the talks, with more than 30,000 delegates expected to participate across the two weeks.
This included ‘School strike for Climate’ activist Greta Thunberg, who arrived in Glasgow as part of a group of youth activists, attracting an expectedly large amount of media interest.
— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) October 30, 2021
World leaders will take the stage in the first days of the COP26 talks when they get started in earnest on Tuesday night Australian time.
Scott Morrison will join more than 100 world leaders in addressing the ‘World Leader’s Summit’ in person, including US president Joe Biden, French president Emmanuel Macron, Canadian President Justin Trudeau and Indian prime minister Narendra Modi.
The World Leader’s Summit is expected to see leaders reiterate new commitments being made in terms of emissions reduction and climate finance and could see further commitments to increased ambition announced to try and set a tone of progress as negotiations commence.