What really went down at COP26

Climate Voices

What really went down at COP26

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Forget the platitudes. Here’s what you need to know about the U.N. climate talks.

By: Climate & Capital Media 

The media wrap-up of COP26 has included everything from “great success” to “utter failure.” Below are insights from the Climate & Capital Media team on what we think is most important to take away from the meeting and how to think about progress moving forward.

COP26: How to judge its success or failure? Watch where the money goes from here.

By Blair Palese 

As someone who has watched climate change and U.N. climate talks for decades, my advice to those trying to make sense of COP26 after the fact is to park the platitudes and watch what happens next.

Once the Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015, the COP talks became all about how to make those goals reality. That means financial mechanisms, issue area pledges, cooperative trade agreements and investment –– the detail, not the Champagne moment. 

COP26 was always going to be messy given the size and scale of creating the necessary solution vehicles. Given that, we can be grateful for the successes delegates did deliver this year. These include the all-important U.S.-China climate pact, global agreements to phase out coal power and halt new coal projects, pledges to cut methane emissions, phase out combustion engine vehicles and end deforestation. They also included the establishment of a First Movers Coalition and a pledge of $130 trillion by the private sector for climate action. Is it enough? A resounding no, but climate action and solution innovation is happening and in some cases, faster than many of us expected six months ago. 

Because addressing climate change is no longer only about what nations do but what businesses, entrepreneurs, investors and even sub-national governments do, to know if we are seeing progress, follow how fast the money moves.

Globally, sustainability funds were worth $3.6 trillion in 2020, only 7% of the overall investment fund sector, and climate-focused funds were just $130 billion of that total. But a record $501 billion was spent on renewable energy, EVs and other low carbon energy systems that same year, a 9% increase from 2019, and climate tech VC funding is expected to reach $49 billion in 2021 indicating increasing interest. Goldman Sachs is reporting that capital is more than 20% for offshore oil, 12% for LNG but just 3 to 4% for renewable energy infrastructure. That’s a real incentive for climate solution investment.

The success of COP26 is in the strength of the market signals that fossil fuels are over and no and low carbon is where the world is going and that message was undeniably strong.

The success of COP26 is in the strength of the market signals that fossil fuels are over and no and low carbon is where the world is going and that message was undeniably strong. The Climate & Capital team will be watching just that and talking to the leaders, risk-takers and idea generators and speed of action. Stay with us. 

COP26 Finance: Big numbers –– can they add up to change?

By John Howell

My takeaway about climate-related finance was centered around news that broke early and stayed in the headlines throughout the entire event. 

The “Finance Day” announcement of the Mark Carney-led coalition that pledged to deliver $130 trillion to transition global economies was news as big as its numbers. The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero — 450 banks, asset managers and insurers from 45 countries — represents 40% of the world’s total financial assets. A shift on this scale in directing investment to climate-related issues promises to make a significant difference in the transition to a clean energy future.

The question of how to ensure that this gargantuan commitment would be executed was partially answered by the International Financial Reporting Standards Foundation, which then announced the launch of a new International Sustainability Standards Board. This consortium of measurement and reporting entities will raise the level of transparency for investors by several orders of magnitude. 

The deployment of climate-related investment will be as daunting as the aspiration is inspiring. Now comes the nitty-gritty of turning the mega-claims into real-world action through executing thousands of details. But I believe Investors seeking to align their funds with the Paris Agreement should be mightily encouraged by these COP26 developments. 

Finally, addressing “natural gas” aka methane emissions is part of the discussion

By Kari Huus

In the circus that was COP26, performance in the big ring was unspectacular in most ways. But a sideshow under the big top gave me heart: Just two days into COP26, more than 100 countries signed on to a pact to reduce methane gas emissions 30% by 2030 from 2020 levels. The move included 15 of the world’s largest methane emitters.

The pledge is voluntary and individual details are scanty, but the good news was that methane became part of COP for the first time. For decades of the climate debate, methane emissions were not widely recognized as part of the problem. I am among the millions on earth who naively believed the fossil fuel industry claims that “natural gas” was a clean fuel –– or characterized it as a bridge or transition fuel. This notion has been completely debunked –– and methane is now recognized as an even more potent greenhouse gas CO2. I’m planning to replace my gas fueled water heater with an electric heat pump and feverishly insulating heat ducts for greater furnace efficiency. But clearly –– though both therapeutic and cost-saving ––  individual actions like these amount to little so long as the industrial giants in oil, gas, agriculture are not addressing methane at the source. So I was gratified to see methane is at least now included in the greatest show on earth –– to protect our climate.

I was gratified to see methane is at least now included in the greatest show on earth –– to protect our climate.

The COP26 rhetoric vs. the reality and demanding my seat at the table

By Arielle Bader 

For the weeks leading up to and during COP26, talk of climate change was everywhere. On the one hand, it’s a major step forward that the issue was front and center in the minds of the general public. People seem to be more conscious and aware of how humans are negatively impacting the earth. On the other hand, as COP26 comes to an end, I have to ask if it made any difference? Did it result in real change? 

The COP26 motto was “Uniting the world to tackle climate change.” But there were 503 fossil fuel lobbyists at the COP table and an alarmingly small number of women, young and indigenous people, and those hardest hit by climate change. Those who were there claim to be open to speeding up climate action. But as a young person whose future will be dramatically impacted by climate change, it’s hard to believe that what was accomplished was anywhere near enough. Will global U.N. climate talks ever be able to deliver solutions big enough to solve the climate crisis? My future is on the line so I, for one, am impatient to know, and want to demand more speed, more action. 

Despite the limited progress at the conference, I was inspired by the activists who continue to fight for change at protests as well as in their own lives and communities. Facing the realities of what a climate-changed world means is emotionally exhausting. Trying to do something about it, year after year, even more so. In the wrap-up of COP26, let’s not forget the 100,000 people who took to the streets around the world to demand real climate justice. These activists are not afraid to call out the “blah, blah, blah” of those in power as Greta did. With COP27 already looming, it’s time to give her and young people like me more seats at the climate table! 

Human connection is key to scaling climate action

By David Garrison

Some see COP26 as a success. Some see it as a failure. But what everyone can agree on is that what happens next — how boldly we take action — matters. 

What’s also clear is that bold action depends not only on a compelling vision and a decision to invest resources, but also on global networks and human connections. Increasingly, our networks determine the scope and diversity of capital we have access to as well as the capacity we have to build momentum. 

One point to take away from COP26 is that informal networks and conversations were as important — if not more important — than official negotiations. And how we manage those networks beyond convenings like COP will be a primary factor in our success or failure. This is as true in corporate performance as it is in international relations.

All this points to an urgent need to accelerate the connections among a diverse set of global and local climate networks. One issue that surfaced in Glasgow is that our existing networks are biased toward familiar types of collaboration and solutions. But innovation and execution depend on new kinds of connection and being able to draw on people with distinct perspectives.

All this points to an urgent need to accelerate the connections among a diverse set of global and local climate networks.

That’s why we’ve launched Climate & Capital Connect: To both reinforce valued ties and give us easy and rigorous ways to expand conversations with entirely new groups of collaborators.

This is an exciting and important time for climate networks. What are you doing to build yours post-COP?

Up next, COP27 in Cairo –– Our enemy now is inertia. Success depends on how quickly we adapt and drive climate solutions.

By Peter McKillop 

Glasgow is behind us. But Cairo, where COP27 will convene next year, looms large. Why? Because if COP26 was the most important climate gathering ever, COP27 will be even more important. And the same will be true every year for the rest of our lives.

As COP26 reminded us, we are now living in a world of permanent crisis. It’s not unusual. The French and British fought a hundred-plus-year war from 1337-1454. The longest continual war in history was the Iberian Religious War, between the Catholic Spanish Empire and the Moors living in what is today Morocco and Algeria. The conflict, known as the “Reconquista,” spanned 781 years — more than three times as long as the United States has existed.

But this crisis is very different. It is not a war among humans. It’s a moment of truth to see if humans can reconcile with our collective polluting past. 

Our enemy is inertia and success will depend on how quickly humans can adapt to global cooperation and put personal and national self-interest aside to collaborate and innovate together for a global climate solution. 

Cairo is an appropriate location for the next COP. Delegates will be surrounded by remnants of ancient civilizations. It will be a reminder each day to every delegate of just how high the stakes are and the civilization-busting consequences of business as usual.

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C&C Climate Voices