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And what now? Reflections on COP26

By Sandy Abrahams, Co-founder of Lux Nova Partners Ltd

When I wrote my last article on COP 26, optimistically, I wrote that the negotiators might “pull some magic out of the bag” and agree some commitments that are “meaningful and aligned with a future that isn’t as bleak as current predictions are forecasting”.

Well, with Greta’s words that it’s all just been more “blah blah blah”, is she right or is there anything more positive to take away from the agreements reached (set out in the Glasgow Climate Pact) and what does it mean for us all?

The positives

Other than the key headlines which have been widely reported on:

  • Phase down of unabated coal;

  • A pledge by US and China to boost their own climate co-operation;

  • A commitment to increase adaptation funding;

  • The yearly ratchet which means countries must come back each year to keep 1.5o C in sight;

  • The $20bn commitment of public and private money for forest protection and the pledge of more than 100 countries to reverse deforestation by 2030 latest…

What else positive can we draw from the conclusion of the negotiations?

A more holistic approach

Finally, there was a recognition that protecting, conserving, and restoring ecosystems and nature has a role in tackling climate change, recognising the interconnectedness of both the climate and biodiversity crises.

Nature-based solutions (reframed as “protecting, conserving and restoring nature”) are gaining traction and are being recognised as a way to help sustainability, affordably tackle the climate and biodiversity crises, while supporting local economies and improving people’s wellbeing.

The wide diversity of talks and side events at COP26 clearly embraced this aspect of the talks and I managed to drop in on seminars as diverse as “Walrus from Space”; “Earth Observers: From space frontiers to frontline farmers; a women-led debate on climate justice”; “Fairtrade Farmers: Our Food and the Fight for Climate Justice” and “Role of indigenous peoples and their communities and nature-based solutions.”

It is also positive to note that as well as referencing the need to protect, conserve and restore forests, the text of the Pact also referred to other terrestrial and marine ecosystems and the need to ensure social and environmental safeguards.

A more extensive response

Even if the outcomes of the COP discussions were not as progressive as hoped, the engagement from business, from the press and from the public has been far more extensive and energised.

Finally, we have seen climate scepticism largely wiped from the dialogue, with the Chief Exec of the Environment Agency saying that there is no future in carbon, we must “adapt or die”, that the earth is burning and that we must fetch the engines and pour on water. This rhetoric that had previously been reserved for Extinction Rebellion or Greta, yet now is mainstream. Even our renowned climate sceptic press produced headlines such as “doomsday warning”, the “Heat is On” (Daily Mirror) and "We can't let COP 26 be a cop out" (Daily Mail).

The response from businesses has also indicated that there is real momentum outside of the COP arena, with the likes of Legal & General stating that “the world is ever more convinced of the imperative on action and delivery”. Indeed, the FT has reported that “while global executives broadly welcomed the deal, many said it did not go far enough. Some complained that companies were showing greater urgency than many governments when it came to global warming.”

The bilateral deals and commitments that were made around the COP seem to demonstrate that the ball has started rolling and that it will only gain momentum. A McKinsey article summarised that focusing only on the official developments of COP is to miss the other story that unfolded, “as public-, private-, and cross-sector pledges signalled that the direction of travel is toward net zero”. And as I walked through the Blue Zone, that really was where I felt the energy was: in the conversations and the deals and the collaborations that were being progressed in the side-lines of the main event.

The negatives

A lack of emergency

However, having said that there was energy and momentum, it was not enough to get the commitments needed to limit warming to 2 degrees, let alone 1.5. The enthusiasm and commitment at the fringes of COP did not seem to translate across all negotiating and the collective (lowest common denominator) response lacked the ambition and urgency that the emergency demanded.

A recent study in the scientific journal Nature suggests that to stand a 50% chance of avoiding more than 1.5C of global heating, we need to retire 89% of proven coal reserves, 58% of oil reserves and 59% of fossil methane (“natural gas”) reserves. If we want better odds than 50-50, we’ll need to leave almost all of them untouched. The UNFCC has made it clear that we must halve global emissions no later than 2030 compared to 2010 levels.

However, the emissions reductions pledges agreed at the COP actually equate to almost 14% above 2010 levels by 2030. (See para 25 of the Glasgow Climate Pact). This would result in a 2.4C rise in temperatures.

Clearly, there is a lot of work to be done and the commitment to return on an annual basis to ratchet down the pledges will be essential.

A lack of justice

What of the funds being provided or mitigation and adaptation? Apart from being late and woefully inadequate (only $100bn per annum split between all developed countries and yet £372bn was spent on Covid by the UK government alone), they are also viewed by many as yet another form of colonialism.

There are arguments being made that funding should be in the form of climate reparations, not aid or loans, compensating those countries that will suffer and are suffering most due to developed countries’ profligate use of carbon fuels. The concepts of liability for loss and damage are still not included in the agreements, as developed countries push back against any language proposed by developing countries which could have supported formal liability for damages and which, in turn, could run into the trillions of dollars.

So instead, we are seeing much of the finance offered as loans, with an Oxfam analysis of OECD figures in 2020 showing that 74% of public climate finance was in the form of loans, while a Carbon Brief analysis shows that some of the countries with the largest contributions, like France and Japan, offer nearly all of their finance as loans. This results in already impoverished countries being put further into debt:

You’re charging them to repair the damage you’ve done to their countries through the climate crisis.

(Professor Molly Scott Cato)

Another concern is being raised over the focus on carbon offsets and the deal reached which will implement Article 6 of the 2015 Paris Agreement, allowing countries to partially meet their climate targets by buying offset credits representing emissions cuts by others. Some indigenous leaders have denounced the deal as a “death sentence” which will result in land grabs, water shortages and human rights violations as projects like biofuel monocrops and hydroelectric dams are financed in a booming carbon off-sets market. Projects like these have been linked to environmental destruction, forced displacement, arbitrary arrests and even murder.

“The leaders pushing for market-based solutions and the commodification of our Mother Earth are signing a death sentence” (Thomas Joseph from the Hoopa tribe, located in California).

What next?

For global ambition and “keeping 1.5C alive”, the ratchet mechanism requiring countries to return to COP27 in Egypt with revised pledges is critical. The pressure that the public and businesses can place on Governments in advance of the next COP is absolutely essential. To say we are at one minute to midnight is an understatement!

And on the ground, how do we and should we respond? For me, personal action, leading to professional action, leading to collective, collaborative corporate action, is key.

If we all take a long hard look at how we carry on our day to day lives:

  • The energy we consume

  • The flights we take

  • The food we eat…

Then step into the office and consider in light of the climate emergency:

  • The work we do

  • The clients we serve

  • The purpose of our businesses…

Then step outside and meet our clients, our contacts, our supply chains and ask what they are doing to mitigate the crises, and how might we work together to accelerate action, we might have half a chance of meeting that 2030 target.

For us as Lux Nova, we are proud to have formed the firm to address that climate emergency and are committing to expand our scope of focus to more holistic approaches to the services we provide, widening to offer our projects and financial expertise to biodiversity and marine projects, regenerative agriculture and the circular economy.

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