City of London Corporation policy chair Catherine McGuinness urged on Friday that we must “ensure that COP26 is about action, not just ‘blah blah blah’,” if we are to finance the transition to net zero and meet the challenge Greta Thunberg has thrown down to us.
Her call for meaningful action follows the UN’s weather agency World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) revealing that global greenhouse gas emissions hit a record high in 2020.
“We are way off track,” UN secretary-general and WMO Professor Petteri Taalas said.
“We need to revisit our industrial, energy and transport systems and whole way of life,” he added, calling for a “dramatic increase” in commitments.
In terms of commitments, what can the world expect from the UN’s flagship climate conference?
The UK – which is playing host this time around – has issued a raft of green policies in the lead up to COP26, from across the government’s Heat and Building and Net Zero Strategy.
The country had already committed to reducing emissions by 68 per cent by 2030 from levels recorded in 1990, and net zero by 2050.
COP26 president Alok Sharma, previously secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, has outlined that the UK’s top goals are unlocking $100bn worth of climate financing to help developing countries commit to the transition, settling the rules for a global carbon market and encouraging countries to adopt emission reduction targets that could limit global warming to 1.5C.
Sharma has also voiced that he wants leaders to “consign coal power to history”.
India’s leader Narendra Modi, whose attendance was debated until last week, has not yet pledged a net zero target for the country.
The commitment it made in 2015, when the Paris Agreement was ratified, said the country would reduce emissions intensity to between 33 per cent and 35 per cent below 2005 levels and fuel some 40 per cent of its electricity coming from non-fossil-based energy sources by 2030.
As the world’s third-largest emitter, behind China and the US, India has reportedly hinted that it may update its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) at Glasgow.
The country will also use COP26 to seek compensation from developed nations for the losses caused by climate disasters, such as flooding and drought, according to local media NewsBytes, which cited an official from the Environment Ministry.
The world’s largest crude oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, last week committed to reaching net zero by 2060.
“These initiatives aim at modifying the Kingdom’s energy mix, rationing and increasing the efficiency of energy production and use, and investing in new energy sources, including hydrogen,” crown prince Mohammed bin Salman said.
While the 2060 target is by no means ambitious, the upcoming conference could see the country bring this goal forward.
Speaking at the official launch of the Saudi Green Initiative Forum, bin Salman revealed Saudi Arabia would spend more than $180bn on its new climate goals, including reducing carbon emissions by 278m tonnes annually by 2030.
After opening its first renewable energy plant in April and its first wind farm in August, the country now has plans to build a $5bn plant to produce hydrogen and clean fuel.
With the country clearly eyeing green investments, COP26 may act as a ground on which Saudi Arabia can barter for more.
Japan, one of the wealthiest nation’s attending the summit, has pledged to be net zero by 2050, the same as the UK.
The country’s new prime minister Fumio Kishida is making the necessary arrangements to attend COP26 in Glasgow, according to local media Yomiuri.
On Friday, Kishida’s government gave the green light to a 46 per cent cut in emissions by 2020, almost double the target it committed to after Paris Agreement.
While Japan has said that the grid’s coal share will fall from around 26 per cent to 19 per cent as part of its 2030 energy plan, there is pressure on the country to slash its dependency even further.
The country, therefore, may well use the conference to make a pledge for how much of its energy grid comes from renewable energy – similar to the UK’s pre-conference pledge of sourcing all electricity from renewable sources by 2035.
Japan, which has also been criticised for its overseas coal plant financing, could face increased pressure at COP26 to freeze such funding and make commitments to trimming its own coal use by 2030.
Kishida’s administration may also use the summit to unveil a bolstered aid package for developing nations in a bid to support them through the net zero transition, as well as mitigating the impacts of climate change, the Japan Times reported.
The US, a historically large contributor to global carbon emissions, has said it will more than halve (52 per cent) its carbon output by 2030 from the levels seen in 2005.
President Joe Biden’s administration, notably greener than its predecessor, has also mirrored the UK’s net zero pledge with a mid-century target.
“I’m presenting a commitment to the world that we will in fact get to net zero emissions on electric power by 2035 and net zero emissions across the board by 2050 or before, but we have to do so much, between now and 2030, to demonstrate what we’re going to do to get there, Biden told a CNN event last week.
At the conference, Biden is expected to outline a new three-tiered plan which will form the basis of the US’ net zero pathway, the New York Times reported – which focuses on tax incentives for renewable energy firms and technologies, stricter emissions regulations that limit pollution from power plants and vehicles and the clean energy laws emerging from its states.
Brazil, home to the world’s largest carbon sink – the Amazon, agreed to cut emissions by 27 per cent and 43 per cent from levels recorded in 2005 by 2025 and 2030 respectively. Though it has not yet set a net zero target.
Many eyes will be on Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro at COP26, who will likely use the Amazon as one of its, what vice president Hamilton Mourao called “weapons of diplomacy”.
Mourao said earlier this week that Brazil will use the conference to announce that it will bring its end to illegal deforestation by 2030 pledge forward by two or three years.
“The Amazon represents around 50 per cent of Brazil’s territory. If we have to maintain 80 per cent of that intact, not only because of our own legislation but also to cooperate with the rest of the world to prevent drastic climate change…We’re talking about preserving 10 Germanys,” Mourao told reporters.
“There has to be a negotiation on the country being compensated for doing that job for the rest of humanity’s benefit.”
Brazil, the world’s biggest exporter of beef, with much of it produced in the Amazon, will also use the climate conference to brush up the environmentally negative image that the country’s agribusiness reportedly has overseas, according to state-run news agency AgenciaBrasil.
“We know the characteristics of our tropical agriculture, which stands out as one of the world’s most productive, innovative, and decarbonising. However, we were surprised to learn how little is known about our agribusiness outside of Brazil,” Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply minister Tereza Cristina said.
“This lack of knowledge ends up being used by those attempting to spread biased narratives that transfer to this sector a portion of the historical burden for the emission of greenhouse effect gases.”
Nations, collectively, are also inching towards a deal that could create a global carbon market at COP26, after Brazil hinted it would be willing to compromise, according to Bloomberg, which cited people familiar with the matter.
Brazil reportedly softened its stance on Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which seeks to form a carbon credit trading framework to help countries reach their net zero targets.
Brazil’s chief negotiator at COP26, Leonardo Cleaver de Athayde told local newspaper Valor Economico: “In all conversations with other delegations, we have clearly signalled that we are more flexible to make the agreement viable.”
China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, confirmed on Thursday that it will aim to hit peak emissions by 2030.
The country set out a new bout of climate change commitments ahead of the climate summit, which includes plans to bolster hydropower and energy storage.
Chinese president Xi Jinping is set to attend the conference via video link, after reports the leader would boycott the event alongside Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
While China offered no new commitments on reducing its coal reliance, it said that from 2025, all new buildings would be constructed to more stringent environmental standards, while 40 per cent of vehicles would be powered by clean energy by the end of the decade.
It is unlikely that China will pull overly ambitious commitments out of the hat during the 13-day event, following its latest upgraded pledges.
Though, similarly to Brazil, the country may want to use COP26 as a platform to amend its green image on the global stage.