As we approach the end of week one at COP26, Greenpeace International Executive Director Jennifer Morgan summed up the state of the talks, saying:
“It’s been a bad week for the fossil fuels companies, but not bad enough, and things need to get a lot worse for them before this COP is over if we’re going to call Glasgow a success. We’ve seen some big announcements, but too many pledges have been voluntary and too often the small print includes big loopholes. The goal hasn’t changed, it’s 1.5C, and while we’re closer than we were, there’s still a long way to go.”
“The leadership at this COP has come from youth activists and the so-called climate vulnerable nations, while many leaders of bigger and richer countries are yet to step up. The magic dust at these COPs is often trust, it’s what can unlock the talks, and the way to build it in week two is to make breakthroughs on the promised $100bn a year of finance, on adaptation, and loss and damage. As the prime minister of Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley said, the countries here in Glasgow need to “try harder, try harder”.
“Over 20 countries and financial institutions agreed in Glasgow to stop new direct public support for fossil fuels by the end of next year, while India’s 2030 renewable energy commitment was the kind of surprise that can spur others to action. The call by the Climate Vulnerable Forum to have countries make annual climate commitments, instead of every five years, is a big move that needs to get traction in week two.
“Greenwashing is proving predictably insidious, especially the push to promote offsetting. But the scammers are being called out loud and clear, both inside and outside the convention centre, especially by Indigenous Peoples who protect 80% of the planet’s biodiversity. The UN Secretary General’s new Group of Experts will address the “deficit of credibility and surplus of confusion” on offsets. That’s good news.
“The big decisions at COP26 need to be consistent with the science and designed to build trust. That means no new fossil fuels and a scaling up of support for the most vulnerable. The $100bn climate funding target, with more cash on top, is overdue, while the unnecessarily hard nut of adaptation has to be cracked. We are here in Glasgow because lives are on the line. Next week is a test for humanity and a time for action.”
Inside and outside the COP arena, voices from countries and communities most affected by the impacts of the climate crisis are rising up and demanding action from world leaders.
- Young activists from Namibia, Uganda, Bangladesh and Mexico sailed into COP on board Greenpeace’s ship, the Rainbow Warrior, to tell leaders ‘stop failing us’.
- The Climate Vulnerable Forum launched a Glasgow Climate Emergency Pact and has demanded countries start making climate commitments every year, rather than every five years and to scale up support for developing countries.
- Powerful statements are coming from world leaders of these nations, with Barbados PM Mia Mottley saying ‘Two degrees [of warming] is a death sentence’ for island nations and failure to fund climate adaptation is ‘immoral’.
- Leaders from the Indigenous Environmental Network and Indigenous Climate Action have spoken out against carbon offsetting, describing it as a false solution that is destroying Indigenous communities apart and gives polluters an excuse to continue polluting.
- Indigenous communities, scientists, Greta Thunberg and NGOs protested against a new taskforce, backed by fossil fuel companies like Shell and BP, which is seeking to radically expand carbon offsetting.
This is increasing the political pressure on the world’s richest nations with the greatest historic responsibility for emissions to step up their ambition and tangible commitments on climate mitigation, adaptation support and finance, in line with the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees.
So far, some strong signals have been sent around phasing out fossil fuels, and India’s new 2030 commitments went further than expected.
- Aligning international public finance with the clean energy transition – over 20 countries and financial institutions agreed to end new direct public support for the international unabated fossil fuel energy sector by the end of 2022. Instead, this support will be prioritised to fully support the clean energy transition. This is a significant move towards the end of the fossil fuel era – especially given the global scale of fossil fuel financing, and the fact that the US is backing this agreement. To be truly effective we need to look at whether Australia, Canada, Japan, Korea, Germany and Italy have signed up. Countries must make binding national commitments to immediately end all new fossil fuel projects, whether via overseas funding, domestic licensing or permitting.
- India – Prime Minister Narendra Modi did more than expected, and pledged to increase renewable energy targets, reducing carbon intensity and net-zero emission by 2070 – described by Greenpeace India as being “in general the right direction of travel”. But campaigners urged Modi to go further in order for India’s energy system to be 50% powered by renewable sources by 2030.
But while leaders want to trumpet their efforts, most other commitments so far have been small steps and further substantive commitments are lacking.
- US – As the biggest historical emitter, nothing less than ambitious action is required from the US to significantly cut emissions over the next decade. But President Biden’s main contribution to the COP so far has been a partnership with the EU on cutting 30% of methane emissions by 2030. While important given the potency of this greenhouse gas, this doesn’t add up to a transformative plan to deliver on the US’s 2030 climate target. The US will need to bring forward many more tangible and binding plans to cut emissions, remove fossil fuel subsidies and invest in green infrastructure over the next decade for it to be able to truly claim climate leadership on the world stage.
- China – Prior to the COP, there were hopes that President Xi Jinping would announce a peak in domestic emissions before 2025, alongside commitments to reduce coal use in its energy system – but the failure to do either is obviously a major disappointment.
- EU – Despite liking to claim climate leadership, the EU is currently taking a conservative approach to the negotiations, rather than spearheading higher ambition in discussions around the final Glasgow Agreement text. Its failure to strongly endorse the High Ambition Coalition (HAC) statement is particularly disappointing. The EU needs to urgently strengthen its support for the HAC’s position and increase adaptation support for the most vulnerable nations, both as a matter of principle, and if we are to stand a chance of unlocking the politics in order to get a successful outcome.
- Australia – Has come under fire after Greenpeace revealed three-quarters of Australia’s ‘significant’ climate aid projects in Pacific don’t mention climate change.
- Russia – Putin did not attend the World Leaders’ Summit but Russia approved a weak low-carbon development strategy, failing to commit to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 and emphasising an increase in the absorption of greenhouse gas emissions by managed ecosystems, with minimal planned reductions across the main sectors of the economy.
- UK – Set out plans to introduce climate regulations for the financial sector, but firm-level net zero commitments will still not be mandatory, and the rules appear to allow plenty of wiggle room for financial institutions to continue with business as usual, rather than ‘rewiring’ the system as the Chancellor claims.
Political deals on the sidelines have built some momentum for action, but they are mostly voluntary, too low-ambition agreements, containing few tangible plans for delivering ambitious emission cuts in practice.
- Climate finance – there has been lots of mood music around possible new pledges to meet the decade-old promise of $100bn a year from richer nations to less developed countries, but the pledges simply don’t give enough detail to say with any confidence that the new goal will be delivered. Much more ambition is still needed, alongside guaranteeing at least 50% of contributions will go towards adaptation, as well as transparency about the nature of different countries’ current commitments.
- Forests – governments signed a voluntary agreement to green light another decade of forest destruction, following years of failed promises on this issue. Tangible policies to actually deliver on promises of zero deforestation and protection of Indigenous Rights were lacking and there are major question marks surrounding the new funding that has been pledged. Greenpeace Brazil executive director Carolina Pasquali said: “There’s a very good reason Bolsonaro felt comfortable signing on to this new deal. It allows another decade of forest destruction and isn’t binding.” The deal itself has also been undermined following Indonesia’s environment minister describing it as “inappropriate and unfair,” despite her country signing up two days before.
- Methane – Some leaders signed a pledge to slash methane by 30% by 2030, in a bid to stop leakages from oil and gas wells. This initiative needs to be the start and not the finish of the ambition on cutting this potent greenhouse gas, which has 28 times the warming potential of CO2. The commitment failed to rule out new fossil fuels altogether, despite global scientists and energy experts concluding this is necessary to limit warming to 1.5 degrees, and it failed to tackle industrial meat and dairy agriculture – which drives methane emissions.
- Just Transition Partnership – Signed between France, Germany, UK, US, and the EU, to support a just transition to a low carbon economy and a climate resilient society in South Africa. This was welcomed by Greenpeace Africa, while warning of the risks of the finances being misused to prop up existing fossil fuel interests. Greenpeace Africa Climate and Energy Campaigner Thandile Chinyavanhu warned: “Now more than ever, security must follow our government to ensure these finances serve their designated purpose and are not looted by our unscrupulous rent-seekers.”
- Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) – A UK government update claimed that “over $130 trillion – 40% of the world’s financial assets – will now be aligned with… the Paris Agreement, thanks to climate commitments from financial services firms.” However, while acknowledging the importance of short term emission reductions to 2030, this voluntary initiative contains no obligations to end fossil fuel financing or redirect finances into climate solutions, gives banks until 2025 to reveal their transition plans, and doesn’t rule out offsetting. Members of the Alliance include the 13 top fossil fuel funding banks in the world since the Paris Agreement. In 2020, 39 banks in the Net Zero Banking Alliance (a subsidiary initiative beneath the GFANZ banner) provided a total of $575 billion in lending and underwriting to the fossil fuel industry.
- Breakthrough Agenda – launched by the UK with over 40 world leaders, aiming to coordinate countries and businesses to roll out clean and affordable technology by 2030. While the initiative is good in principle, it doesn’t contain tangible policies, plans or commitments for delivery, and there is no clarity on whether environmentally destructive activities, such intensive pesticide use, will be ruled out.
- Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement and Powering Past Coal Alliance – 40 countries and some banks committed to phase out coal. For richer countries the end date is the 2030s (or as soon as possible thereafter), for others it’s 2040s (or as soon as possible thereafter). Most notable new signatories are Vietnam, Egypt and Ukraine, given the role of coal in their economies. This is more proof that coal is dying and the end is in sight. But without the USA, Australia, China and India there’s still a very real danger that the end won’t come soon enough. The deadline of the 2030s or as soon as possible thereafter for richer countries also offers a loophole. For example, Germany’s target date for the end of coal is 2038 – way too late – but nevertheless they felt able to sign up to this agreement because it’s in the 2030s or even later. So, there’s been some heavy spin here, but even taking that into account, this is still bad news for coal.
NOTE: the caveat “or as soon as possible thereafter” was not included in the UK government press release and was only revealed later through a leak. Commenting on the way the UK Presidency is handling announcements at the conference, Jennifer Morgan, Greenpeace International Executive Director – one of the few people who have been to every single COP over a quarter of a century – said:
“Most host governments dabble in a bit of media management, but the UK’s communications strategy in Glasgow is something different. It seems designed to dampen transparency and integrity, with announcements timed to make the front pages of UK newspapers, instead of working for the global media. It appears there is a deliberate attempt to hinder real-time scrutiny of extremely important developments.
“We actually want to find things to celebrate here, but it’s hard when there is a constant concern that everyone is getting played. The slight-of-hand around the coal announcement is a perfect case study. There was a reasonably good story to tell, so just tell it straight instead of fuelling cynicism.”
What happens next, after leaders have left?
Negotiations will now begin on the text of the official agreement that will come out of Glasgow. There is a lot still to play for, given mounting political pressure from countries and communities most affected by the climate crisis.
Still to come – The official COP26 Glasgow Agreement text must keep the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees. Anything less would be a complete failure and a dereliction of responsibility from world leaders. Greenpeace will be advocating for progress on the following key areas:
Mythbusting Article 6 proposals for global carbon markets – they’re a scam and don’t work.
Paris Agreement rules must avoid entrenching loopholes that give emitters a way out of decarbonisation in line with 1.5℃. For Article 6 negotiations, this means no carbon offset markets. Carbon credits could, for example, be generated by planting trees or buying up existing forests, as a way to ‘offset’ a dirty power project on the other side of the world. But offsetting doesn’t stop carbon entering the atmosphere and warming our world, it just keeps it off the ledgers of the companies or governments responsible. Instead, Article 6 must set strong rules that boost the implementation of the Paris Agreement through international cooperation. Governments must commit to work together to equitably support mitigation and adaptation with the provision of a range of implementation measures including finance, technology transfer, knowledge sharing and capacity building.
Fossil fuels: phase-out, defund, and pursue a just transition to renewables.
The text of the official COP26 Glasgow Agreement must reflect the need for real action to start phasing out fossil fuels. This means no new projects, no new finance, and no public support for existing projects, which should be phased out almost entirely by 2050. Coal should be phased out as quickly as possible as a priority. We will push to get the final COP26 decision text to mention fossil fuels as the main culprits of the climate emergency, and commit to adequate financing to support less developed nations to scale up renewable energy capacity.
Finance: deliver on the $100bn a year promise – and more.
We want developed countries to come forward at COP26 with new money and a robust, transparent and needs-based plan that shows how the $100bn will be met annually for the next five years. We’re calling for the post-2025 goal to be needs-based and science-based, with clear milestones that go well beyond $100bn annually, and to extend the long-term finance programme. Commitments must also be made to support less developed countries with the loss and damage caused by the climate emergency.