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Coal, cash, cars & trees – is it enough?

Updated: Nov 11, 2021

As the second week of COP26 continues, it is worth revisiting a jam-packed first week of activity in Glasgow.

The self-appointed slogan for the 26th Annual Conference of Parties (COP) has been touted by Prime Minister Boris Johnson but where do we stand as we enter this final week and more importantly, are these four priorities enough?

On coal – more than 40 countries have agreed to phase out their use of coal-fired power – including countries such as Vietnam and Poland who have deep dependencies on coal powered generation. However, countries such as China, USA, India and Australia did not add their signatures to this pledge. Whilst it would have been great for more countries to sign up, we must not forget that with the cost of renewables falling, the economic arguments become just as strong as the environmental factors – possibly forming a stronger incentive to switch.

On cash – on the eve of COP26, we learnt that the £100bn a year pledge to support developing countries has not been met and may not be met until 2022/23. On the 3rd November, Rishi Sunak announced the creation of the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ), representing around 40% of the world’s financial assets. Transitioning investment portfolios to net zero portfolios has the potential to be hugely significant but we still wait for the detail on delivery – in particular which technological solutions will be supported and where the resources will be targeted.

On cars – the official transport day at COP26 commences on Wednesday 10th November but that hasn’t stopped the excitement building around the move to electric vehicles (EVs). Not only a vehicle to tackle air pollution, EVs have the potential to provide a critical role in our future flexible grids – acting as balancing units for periods of peak demand. Key questions remain around affordability and global supply chains. However, with policies like the UK’s recent decision to introduce a Zero Emissions Mandate for manufacturers, this is hopefully a springboard to truly accelerate the growth of this sector globally.

On trees – a really significant breakthrough in the first week relates to world leaders pledges to end and reverse deforestation by 2030. We have been here before – in 2014 a previous deal failed to slow deforestation at all. However, this time round countries such as Brazil have signed up to the pledge – widely seen as a big development. The true test, as with all these areas, will be in the delivery phase this decade and how countries will be monitored for non-compliance.

A final thought - Slogans can often be memorable, and in this case, help simplify some of the key challenges of these complex negotiations but we must make sure we don’t lose sight of the key challenges playing out in these negotiations.

Pledges are great and should be welcomed. However, we must not forget that pledges do not cut carbon – policies do.

In this final week, it would be great to see more specific policy announcements announced, which turn this ambitious rhetoric into meaningful climate action.

Decarbonising the world’s economy is a necessity. Citizens from right across the globe are demanding policies to be put in place right now to accelerate the transition to a zero-carbon economy. It is now up to world leaders to deliver.

By Simon Shaw, Good Energy

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